The Dead Line

                                     

It started with a short sentence.

“Can I speak to Angelo, please.”

I rarely get calls on my mobile, mostly wrong numbers. “ No-one here of that name, sorry.”  Was my simple reply and I may have caught an “Oh” as the line clicked off.

It was a pleasant voice, female, probably young; i.e. young enough to be a daughter, maybe even a granddaughter of mine.  If I had any.

I returned to wire brushing the cracks in the block paving on the drive.  A cross between a most thankless and satisfying task for a mildly OCD person.  That’s me, I suppose.  Not a hang-up, just an observation.

I was almost relieved to stop when the mobile rang again.

“Was this a wrong number or is it just that Angelo isn’t there?”   The same female voice, this time a little less chirpy,  anxious.

This is where another flaw emerged and I had to respond that  “I didn’t know if it was a wrong number but I did know that Angelo wasn’t with me.  Or had been.  He certainly wasn’t helping me weed the block paving!”

“Oh.”  This time the line didn’t go dead and I just stood there waiting, listening.

“They gave me this number.”

“My number or the wrong one?”

“This one.”

“Okay, maybe I asked the wrong question. Philip Marlowe I ain’t.”   I shouldn’t have said that out loud!

“Who?  No, it’s Angelo I wanted.”  She sounded hesitant.

I should have killed the call but she would probably have rung back to ask why.  I was also curious and felt like Humphrey Bogart playing Philip Marlowe in one of his smoke-filled bars or hotel rooms talking with a mystery caller.    Well, I had just finished reading an old Chandler paperback and despite my age can still empathise like a good-un.

“Can I help?”  Foolish, foolish! I thought, as I spoke.

“If he is not there, it might be too late when he gets back. Just tell him I rang and said I’m here.” Her voice choked, broken now.

Young or old, alarm bells still ring, maybe more so as time passes.  I went for alarm!

“Too late?  I can come over now, if it is important. Where are you?  It’s never too late to talk.  Just tell me where and I will drive straight to you.”    By now my heart was bumping a bit and I had dropped the wire-brushy thing and started to go back indoors.    And I never once considered that she could be literally anywhere in the world.

“I’m at the station.”

“Which station?  Where?”

“Burnthorpe.  Railway.   There’s a train coming….”  She was almost screaming at the noise.

“No! Wait!” I shouted into the phone. I heard the roar of the train as it sped through.  I could imagine the blur and rush as the noise of the express shattered through the phone and the single tone followed disconnection.  I can hear it now, it’s a sort of tinnitus, an electronic whistle embedded in my brain that creeps out as a reminder in the dark.  I think I got myself into a panic.

And where was Burnthorpe?  I hadn’t heard of it.  It wasn’t local as far as I knew.  And I stood there with that damned whistling in my ear even when I looked and saw the red blob with ‘call ended’ on it.

Search engines on phones do have their uses.  My head cleared as I found Burnthorpe, a couple of hours drive away.  Or I could just ring the station.  And say what?  What would I want to hear?  Chances are they wouldn’t even talk to me, a strange man asking questions about a brief phone call, and that a wrong number and maybe a……?     I could pretend to be a journalist, or just nosey.

Burnthorpe rang a tiny bell.  All I knew about it was I had never been there, must have buried the name in some odd recess.

I live in a bit of a mess but sometimes I get that disconcerting enthusiasm to do something.  Finish tidying the office.  Write another chapter.  Well, rarely these days.  Finding something new to say about Enclosures means research, which I no longer have the patience for and ‘retired’ means I can’t cajole students into the subject.  It’s prime-time social upheaval but the glamour seems to have moved back to the ‘Dark Ages’.  Even that term is antiquated now!

But after that lost voice, those few seconds, I felt an almost alarming need to know.  It was quite odd to get that feeling from so long ago.  Maybe it was just the chance timing in the middle of a boring day for a bored old man.  I can say that but not you.  I say I am early-retired but truth be known I’m just a casualty of the cost-cutting, course cutting, redundancy-band of nearly sixty year-old university drones.     I might have gone a few years earlier but survived.  Having said that maybe I should have left five years earlier and got a big payout instead of a few quid extra on my pension.

Oddly, some of that actually drifted through my mind as I shoved the tablet and charger into my rucksack, checked wallet for cash and cards and headed for the door.  Bag on shoulder, glasses on nose and keys in hand I stood for a peremptory glance round the hallway before turning and shutting the door behind me.

I was sitting in the car, engine running in quick-time.  I sat there and realised I did know what I was doing and it was almost exhilarating.  I was off on a goose-chase, I told myself, but the woman’s voice echoed through the background tinnitus.     Maybe I was caught in my own web of fantasy, swapping village labourers for my other passions; pulp crime fiction, Philip Marlowe, Humphrey Bogart and gritty films.   Yes, I still have my childhood tucked away safely and it   escaped.  There I was, about to drive into the unknown, for no real reason.  So I did.

…………………………

What did we do before navigation-apps?  Now I stick in the post-code and hope for the best.  I followed the little blue arrow on my phone and the attentive instructions about roundabouts and exits for an hour or so.  After that I was offered a route that was quicker round congested traffic and I entered a world of ‘lost’ single-track lanes that criss-crossed bigger roads for no apparent reason until I was instructed to turn left onto a busy dual carriageway.  Within a hundred metres I was filtered off again and  driving alongside a small Industrial park which switched to a smaller retail park and finally a railway station.  Having ‘reached your destination’ I parked in an all too convenient parking space beside a police car.

 

Well, I had arrived.  One option would be to drive home immediately.  The police car seemed an ominous sign.  I unhooked my phone and slipped it into the jacket’s inside pocket.  Unclipped the seatbelt, opened the door and swivelled round.  At least I could wander around, looking casual, I thought.  Got out, straightened up, stiffly.  Saw a coffee shop opposite and went in to order a cup and find a toilet.  Why do you so rarely find a toilet in books? On Tele  yes, quite important in some series.   Relieved, coffee before me, I sat looking out at the police car.

“Do they just park there all day?”  I spoke to the barista clearing the next table.  He followed my gaze to the police car.

“Nah, must be somethin’ up.  If they park there they come in for a coffee and a pee.  Not today. Not yet, anyhow.”  He finished stacking the tray,  “Been there an hour. Another one came and went again.   Another barista nipped out through the swing door and returned having collected from other tables.

I sat there, fingers clasping the huge mug of coffee.  Luckily it was cooler by now.  I hadn’t hurried to drink it.  I was still in adventure mode but had no idea what to do so sat, a figure of indecision.

Oddly satisfying it was too.   Two minutes later and a line of customers came in. They arrived as commuters and called in for assorted coffees and balms and sat at most of the tables around me.

Two policemen and a woman crossed over the road.  I watched them approach.   It was odd that I should recognise one of them.  I thought. I shuffled down into my jacket even though it hid nothing more than my tie-less collar.

In uniform, the older man joined the queue. The others looked round the busy room and made a bee line for my table.  I felt my face redden as they asked “can we sit?”

“Sure.”

Sitting, they spoke casually about how long before shift ended and lack of plans for the evening.  Mind you they finished at 10 p.m., so little time for much as far as I was concerned.

It was then I realised what the time was.  And here I was, in a market town in the middle of nowhere, just about to be recognised by an old rival.  Old friend. Once, briefly.  And it was getting dark soon. Two hours from home via piddling little lanes that I really didn’t want to drive through again in the dark.

“Of all…”. He started as he reached the table.  Carefully placed the tray of coffees and continued staring, interrogating my face.

“……the bars, in all the world…..” Bogarts voice crawled through my head.

“ …. people, I would never have thought to see you here.”    He pulled his head back slightly as if getting a different perspective on the man who stole his girlfriend.   “It is Harry, isn’t it?”

He leaned forward again and shot a hand out stopping a few inches away from my nose.

“Long time eh?  Haven’t seen you for years. What twelve, fifteen?  Not since you walked off with my girlfriend.  Guys,” he moved his outstretched hand as introduction to his two companions.

“Meet Harry.  This is d.c. Maitland, referring to the woman and  sergeant Weatherly.”   His hand veered back to my nose. I took it and we shook.  He, firmly, and I surprisedly.  He continued speaking, “ Harry.  Harry Leem!  Fancy.” He sat and I still couldn’t figure his mood with me.  Time heals, I hoped. It looked like he had moved up if not on.   It was sixteen years, actually, and she used me as an excuse to walk away from him, Walter, like she used Richard to leave me a couple of months after that.

He had just become a sergeant and was stationed in Sheffield where we met.  He was on the course and I was the lecturer.  I would socialise with students in those days, a legacy of the eighties partying and got to know him as part of the group.

So here we were, me a redundant lecturer, failed author, sitting opposite a very braided police officer from whom I had stolen a woman he no doubt loved very much.  All because I worried about a phone call.  I wondered if he still read Chandler or rather today’s crowding list of authors; knowing mine wouldn’t be one of them.

“Don’t mind them,” he said, “are you here for a while or waiting for a train to somewhere?”

“I’m in the car.”   ‘Train to nowhere‘  zipped through my brain.  As Walter seemed quite relaxed at seeing me I dived in, “Actually, I might be here on a whim or an odd coincidence.  Listen.”   It was like old times.  Me, a lecturer with ideas,  wishing I was different, talking to someone who was good at listening and maybe interested too.   I told him my story.   It was brief but as I began the other two listened in silence.

“Are you sure she said Angelo?”  Walter spoke as seriously as he had listened.

“Yes” I couldn’t say more.

Can I have your phone, please?”

I automatically dug it out and passed it to him. He handed it to the policewoman.

“And can you confirm the time of the phone call?”

“About three this afternoon.” I hazarded.

“It will be on the log.” She said, “what’s the log-in?”

I told her. She checked it. “ 15.08 then 15.11. So the train you heard was the 15.11 express.”

“What happened?”  They had said nothing so far, “Is she?  Did she….? You know.”

The detective looked at the older policeman. He spoke, “ You are a potential witness. We will have to check your story, your alibi, if you like.  But I can say nothing seems to have happened.  Except she seems to have disappeared, maybe. Your story, the phone call, just happens to muddy the water.  Strictly speaking we have no reason to be concerned as she is an adult.  The problem is that her mobile is now disconnected and she was due to meet someone at this station. We know she arrived and waited and then was gone. The person she was to meet reported her missing.”  He looked at the detective.

“We need you to remain in Burnthorpe so we can interview and take a statement.”

“Why not now, I should be going home.  It’s late.”

“As it’s late it would be sensible to stay here in Burnthorpe.  They’re bound to have a room at the hotel round the corner. The Lazydaze Hotel.”

Did they expect a challenge?  It was too late to do otherwise.  I had no change of clothes but could buy clean from the store on the opposite corner; said Walter.  He ordered more coffees while I nipped to the store. The detective, Winnie, I was informed, would book me a room. The sargeant was posted back to the station and end of shift.

When I returned with my new boxers and shirt (forgot the socks!),  Walter was alone at the table with his and my cold coffees.  The police car had gone.  Chief Inspector Walter Copper invited himself to my car and the hotel.  Then booked and bought us an early meal where we picked our way through our last couple of meetings when he lost and I gained a girlfriend.     I muttered about being sorry and that she left me too, very quickly.  Once we found agreement that we had both lost and maybe he had made a better fist of life than me, we fell into a nostalgic conversation of catch-up of common interests.  Until I cracked:

“Off the record,” I finally asked, “Is there a problem for this woman? Who is she?”

“It might be in the paper tomorrow anyway, so maybe I can let slip a little.”

I instinctively leaned forward and Walter mirrored the movement.

“We don’t know any more than you have just told us.”  He leaned back, almost smiling, briefly.  “We just came in for a coffee break and a two-minute briefing after I got off the Leeds train”

I just felt stupid. “But you came straight over to me.”

“Because I recognised you and you were looking at me.”  He went serious again, “You might have been here about Ann.  I know she works on your patch.”

I didn’t.  I had just told him where I had driven up from but it sounded like he knew I hadn’t moved since those last meetings.  “Is she still in the force?”

“Yes. Married, kids, divorced; the whole lot but still in Sheffield and a D.I.”

“You?”

“The same.  Married, kids, divorced and still living here.  Burnthorpe has you by the throat, no escape.  Your turn, Harry.”

“You recall I was divorced back then.  Sorry about Ann, we should never have gone off like that.”  I did feel he deserved an actual apology albeit years too late.  I paused, maybe too long.   “Still single, no kids, out of work.   Well, redundant and early-retired but it doesn’t make it any better.”   I stopped. I pulled us back to my reason for being in Burnthorpe.

“So why am I still here?  Apart from trying not to talk about old times?  You wouldn’t book me in here for no reason.”   I looked round the sparse tables and furnishings, “Unless it’s revenge.”

“We need to check your phone; her call.  If we find her mobile it might help.  ‘Angelo’ is a new name.  As I said, she just seems to have disappeared. On the platform as the train arrives, then gone.  Maybe Angelo is a lead.  Her friend got off the train and but no one to meet her.”

He hadn’t given me any names. It made it hard to imagine.  “Do they have names, the women? It might help.”   I started to think they were A and B but that old memory of Ann stepped in.

I continued; “The train.  It was an express. On the phone it was obviously not stopping.  Too fast and getting louder.  That was when the signal just cut into a disconnected whistle.”  I found myself thinking almost logically. The first time maybe for some months.  “That’s why it got to me!  I was worried it was a suicide.  Maybe me and a wrong number, being casually rude was too much. “

Walter was listening without interrupting the pauses.

“Was there an express?  Maybe she threw the phone onto the tracks. Or at the train? In front of it, whatever.  Perhaps it was a stranger, a mugger.  That would be why it disconnected.    Is that the answer?  But why vanish?”

Walter took his mobile out.. tapped numbers and spoke into it:    “It wasn’t the 15.11 express, that stopped at the station.  It was the one on the ‘through’ track.  It was late and must have been just ahead of the stopper.  Talk to the drivers of both trains.  Get lights on the track and search for the mobile. Or bits of one.”    He listened while it was repeated back.  “And don’t forget to stop the bloody trains in both directions!”

“Thank you, Harry.”    He pocketed his phone.  “Timing, eh.  Bloody timing.”

I was feeling bolder, “What about CCTV?”

“None available.”  He shook his head pensively.  “What was that course we met on?  I just remember an arrogant bastard hitting on my girlfriend.”

“We were friends a few months before that.  But the lecture was ‘Social Unrest in the 18th and 19th Centuries’. Which was me.  And I sat in with you for the two on ‘Victorian Morality and the Police’ and ‘Forensic Evidence; collection and presentation.”  I felt no pleasure in that particular feat of memory.

“That was when you got bored and wormed you way between me and Ann”

Not something I could deny.  I was into the social side; forensics was much too niche for me,  Ann was much more interesting.

“Should I apologise again?”

“No; Walter under the bridge!”  He raised his whisky, drank and said he should go and that I should report to the station before ten next morning.

Was that a joke, I wondered as he walked out of the bar with a brief wave.  No handshake but then we were still a little wary of each other.

…………………….

It was a warm morning, the sun was up but looking soft at the edges, like it was hungover.

It was a fair distance walking to the police station from the Lazydaze Hotel and the freshness of my new clothes was worn off when I arrived that next morning and asked for Walter Copper.

“Chief Inspector.” I was advised and directed upstairs, “second passage on the left and check with his P.A.”

“P.A.?” I thought as I walked the lavender corridors.

It wasn’t so much a corridor that I turned into, more an alcove with a desk jutting out.  The placement, and the man behind it, seemed purely to obstruct entrance to the office door at his back.  I could read ‘C.I. W. Copper’; black on white in its frame on the wall.

“Harry Leem,” I began but stopped as the young man silently pointed fist and cocked thumb backwards over his shoulder towards the door.

“Go in, he’ll be with you in a minute.” He didn’t take his eyes off the small screen with its flashing colours under his other hand. “Yess!” He said under his breath.

I stepped sideways  between desk and wall then opened the door and entered.  More like a cupboard than an office.  Or a cell.  A high window, darker lavender walls, a small desk with an old p.c., plus notebook and pencils that filled the desk-top. There was a comfortable high-backed swivel chair with just enough room to swivel and a set of floor-to-eye shelves.  Some books, some momentos of ‘whatevers’ and six cards displayed on its top shelf.

‘Congratulations on your retirement!’  Said one. Others were more in the current taste of stills from old films with new words.  One caught my eye.  It was Humphrey Bogart towing the ‘African Queen’, up to his knees in water, looking knackered and the card read:  ‘I thought they said Cruise, not Crews.’    Philip Marlowe would have put it better.

The door opened. Walter peered in, jerked his head as he said, “Come on let’s get out of here.” I followed his sidling between wall and P.A. desk.

We walked briskly, he was used to striding, I had forgotten how and the memory didn’t want to return.

“We’ll go to the pub.”  He announced.

The walk was threatening to send me to hospital but we arrived at some bulging windows of a cream painted building on a corner in the old part of town.  An old wooden linteled  door. The building fronted the main road and round the corner,  sloping up the side-street.  We ducked our way in, a shabby table-high shelf to our immediate left with a biggish black book sitting on it.  Matt black and shabby to match the stained oak of the wall behind it.  It was like the shortest hall-way ever. You expected a second door but it never existed.  Two steps and we were in an old fashioned, stone slabbed bar with another bar to the side. Once there was a wall between but this was now a much more open view where the lath and plaster had been removed leaving the ‘renovated, polished’ beams in their original upright and angled positions.

‘Hi Walter!’  The woman called out as they entered, “Same as?”

“Just a coffee and…” I agreed to one too,  “And another.  Americano.”

She brought the coffees on a tray.  I had to watch as she walked across the bar, I’m old enough to know much better.  But then maybe not.  Obviously mature but a lot younger than me, us. Casually curling golden hair, framing her round and flawless face with a smile and twinkling eyes to catch anyone’s breath.  I noticed she was quite tall and her rounded hips balanced perfectly between length of leg and body.  The gently tailored dress and half-scooped neckline suggested equal perfection underneath.   Not a mood I catch myself in very often these days.  Too many students acting like waifs or mannequins took the edge off.  Plus a few brief couplings and goodbyes that weighed me down.  And at the back of it was still Ann.

I watched as she walked to the coffee machine and back.

She returned with a cafetière and mug for herself and sat with us.

“This is Angel,” Walter introduced her.  She held out her hand, I took it.

“And you are?” She asked, our hands still.

“Harry.  Harry Leem.”

“Harry,” she said thoughtfully as if committing the name to memory.  Her hand firmed with mine and she smiled right into me.  Hands parted, I watched her carefully plunge the cafetière.

“Coincidentally,” Walter started the conversation,  “Do you know anyone called Angelo?  Or maybe talking about someone with that name?”

She stopped pouring into a half-filled mug and put the cafetiere down. Looked up.

“Who is missing?  It was all the talk here last night.  I gather it’s a woman.  She must have a name, is she local?”   It sounded false, more guarded than interested.

“This has to be off the record.  Today is my last day, after tonight I am off the job.  They tried to kick me off today, the D.C.I. In no uncertain terms.”

“Winnie put him straight?” she said it without a smile

“Partly.” He looked briefly at me then back to Angel.  “Harry might be a witness so I’m on babysitting duty.  We don’t know if there is a mystery yet.  It might be that someone dropped their phone and stormed off.”

“Did you find the phone?” I had to ask him.

“Yes.  You were right.  It must have hit the first ‘through’ train and we found it, or the bigger bit at least.  With the SIM card.  They were testing it when we left. dropped or thrown, or by who, we don’t know.”

Thankfully I’m not a grammar-tart!

“Her name? And the friend meeting her, you said.”  Angel encouraged an answer.

“The missing woman is Adriana.  The friend on the train was  a contact rather than a friend.  She had come from Leeds to meet Adriana. They had never met and she had only spoken on the phone and no photograph.  She knew her name, that she had long black hair, thirty years old and wanted to escape an abusive partner.  To hide.  A woman called Nira was to meet Adriana at the station.   Nira may have had their tickets for the next train journey so no trace of where to would be found.”

“So Angelo is the man she is running from?”  I assumed.

“Yes, it seems so.” Walter agreed, “But Nira seems to know nothing more.  Harry’s accidental contact seems to firm-up the man’s name as Angelo but nothing else.  Hopefully the sim will give more.  Ideally the Contacts List will have full details of both.”

On hearing the name ‘Nira’ I noticed Angel’s eyes tighten a little and look away briefly.

She looked back at me, “And you drove here just on a wrong number?”

“The way it disconnected worried me.  And her voice was odd.  No accent but something seemed wrong.”

“Are you police too, ex police?”

“No,” I had to smile at that suggestion, “Ex rubbish lecturer in Social History mainly 18th and 19th Century”

“Oh,” she smiled quite sweetly but obviously no convert to the subject.

“Don’t put yourself down like that.” Walter stepped in, “you were good at stealing girl friends!”

“Ah.”  I had no more response than that.

She leaned across and patted my knee. “It must have been years ago, though.  He doesn’t hold grudges forever.  Well not many.”   This didn’t really help. I drank some coffee.

As I sipped at the hot drink I realised that his reaction was more like before the  messy collapse of our friendship.

Back to Nira, Adriana and Angelo.

“Has Nira gone back to Leeds?” Angel asked.

“Yes”

“Could Adriana have been asking for Angel rather than Angelo?”  I tossed a random thought.

“Why?”  She spoke and looked at me a little too sharply.

“I have no idea, just a question. Did you know Nira even if you didn’t know Adriana?  Is your mobile number similar to mine and or Angelo?  Is there any connection between Burnthorpe and Leeds regarding safe houses?  Which this seems to mean. Was Adriana really running from abuse or was it cartels or even the police? Did Nira actually hear Adriana naming this Angelo?  Is it just assumption because she said his name to me?”   I realised I was mouthing off a bit.  Musing out loud more than I should.  I hoped we would survive this interrogation when I had known her for a mere twenty minutes.  Let alone mending a fractured friendship with a retiring police officer.

I stopped.  We looked one to the other, conversation blunted.  “Oh Hell!” I thought out loud again. “Probably her partners name. Maybe she is Italian, he could be too.”   I tried to back-track.

I looked at the menu board propped on the wall waiting to be put outside.

The header was the pub’s name:  ‘The Jolly Puritan’    We were anything but that. I wanted to go home.

“The old vicarage.”  She spoke as if forced.  We looked blankly, waiting for more.  “Dad bought the old vicarage when they put the three churches into a pool. You know, a team approach going the rounds. They sold off our vicarage and spare land from the other two. Dad retired. Then he died.” She stopped and looked over to Walter. He nodded slightly in remembrance.

It meant nothing to me, I just waited.

“And?” The bar seemed surprisingly quiet as we sat there. Walter prised quietly.

“Nira didn’t have any tickets.”  Pause.  “It’s only up the road from here.”   She stood and casually pressed  down the creases from her waist.  I sat, quietly numbed, waiting for a dramatic announcement.

“It’s a safe-house.”  She started to place the mugs and cafetière on the tray and carried it to the back of the bar.    “Any more coffee?”    We both shook our heads.

“We can have three people max.. women, girls, and any children.  More would fit in the house but people might notice too many. “  she spoke with her back to us.  Turning, continued;   “I don’t know about the mobile numbers, we should check.  Or the name Adriana is running from.  But yes; she would have been given my number as emergency contact. And the name.”

“It’s you.  You would answer to Angelo.  Near enough your real name.”

“But she wouldn’t know I was a woman.” She leaned on the bar. “A little bit of security, we thought.  Three years and nothing has gone wrong.  Meeting at the station,  both by train then a taxi to the house.  I ring Madelie and she collects them and back to the vicarage.  Nira just keeps an eye on her.  On the train to the station.

Walter spoke. “I am an old friend, you and I.   For years, you know what I know.”  He rubbed a smear of coffee on the table.  “Why not even a hint? And I am police, for goodness sake!”  He shook his head.  “You said nothing yesterday!” his voice full of exasperation.

A deep sigh and, “Because you are Police!”  She stood erect.  “ You never said ‘Nira’.  I didn’t know she, they, were coming.  I just react to a phone call.  Some of these women have nothing.  Literally nothing, especially trust.  Especially trust in men.  Yes, especially!”  Attack was the best form of defence, she seemed to have decided.

“You could have trusted me, even so.”

Angel switched her gaze from Walter to me.  We briefly held eyes before I bowed away.  At which she moved to the coffee machine, “I need another anyway.”

In the quiet Walter resumed his thinking out loud

“So, we can check your two numbers to see if they are close enough for a mis-dial.  That would cover that point.  It explains why she, Adriana, was at the station. Partly the phone but not her actual disappearance.  Did she run from someone?  Did he, or they, force her or was she willing?        The upshot is, she is missing, she has to be found.”   He was interrupted by an old cartoon ringtone. His phone.

“It’s loud so I hear it in all weathers,” he passed it off as an explanation then listened with infrequent “yup”.    Finished, phone back in pocket.

“It’s her SIM, we opened it.  Lucky for us she’d no idea of security.”  He continued, “ It had a tracking app on it.  She could have been followed.  Contacts include her own, and yours, or Angelo; we can check the number with yours.  And we seem to have a selfie or two.”

Angel brought her new coffee to the table.  Walter’s phone bleeped cheerfully again and he retrieved it.   Angel peered over to see its screen.

“That must be her.  No wonder she is running scared.” he said.

I looked across at the picture on the screen to see a young woman with long black hair and a worryingly swollen eye with massive black bruising and a cheek  that was just shining into deep purple with yellow outer edges.

Angel grabbed at my arm. “When was that? The date?”

“Three days ago.”  He scrolled down to more text. “ He left her messages but they haven’t sent them on.  His last one was 11. O5.  Just before she phoned you, as Angelo. “

“Is his picture there?” I asked.

“No. We are getting his details off his mobile account and trying for his current location.”

“Can you find where he was on his 11.05 text?”  Me again. Angel’s grip was beginning to hurt.

It suddenly felt incongruous.  Me, sitting in a pub with an old ex-maybe-friend and a woman I should have felt so much less for after only half an hour; and talking pseudo forensics with the almost retired policeman about abused women and maybe abduction or worse.   As they say, twenty four hours ago I was at home, bored.  Now I just wanted to get out and find that woman.  I had forgotten what adrenaline was like.  But then I rarely knew anyway.  Now I felt it, I wanted more.

Walter got his notebook out and wrote the number she had rung for Angelo.  It was my number. No surprise in the end.  We checked Angel’s number and the last six digits were the same as mine, as were the codes.  No!  Adriana had transposed numbers into my carrier’s when putting them into her contact list.  A simple mistake but it might have been her last.

He was on his phone, “ Get that search organised. From the railway station outwards. Circulate her photo.  Treat it as a suspicious action. We don’t know if it is abduction. Yet.”   He looked towards me, “ I will drop you at the hotel.  You can leave Burnthorpe if you like  but I might need to call you back. We haven’t done that statement yet.”  He stood. “Thanks Angel. I aim to forget about the Vicarage. You too.”  He looked at me.  I nodded.  “I have to rush.”

“I can make my own way to the hotel,” I thought it would speed him along.

“I can take Harry in five minutes.” Angel said quickly

“Whichever, I must go.”  He said and collected his hat, becoming the real policeman again. “I’m off. We’ll find her, Angel, we’ll find her.”     He ducked through the low doorway and must have knocked the Bible off the shelf.

Saying nothing, Angel glided to retrieve and replace the Bible.

She went behind the bar and explained that someone was due to start a shift and she could slip away for half an hour.  Plenty of time to drop me at the hotel.

I just shrugged and agreed to wait.  It wasn’t long before a young lad came in.  Following a brief conversation with Angel he settled both arms to rest on the bar, phone in hands and thumbs jabbing.

“Come on then,” to me as she whisked out via the gap behind the bar. I had to jump up and scramble through; following into and out of a kitchen, a final back-room and lastly a huge old door that opened onto a square yard and the brightest of sunlight.

“She handled the car like a pro; almost as good as I handle whisky”.  I rehearsed the line a few times as Marlowe came to my rescue while we dodged round the traffic and corners.   Had we been chased we would never had been caught.  We slammed into a parking space and the jolt matched the squeal of tyres.

“You can relax now.” She smiled as she looked to me, and twisted to get out of the car.

She was half way up the steps to the hotel as I managed to uncurl from the low-seat and straighten up.  I watched her moving up the steps and tried to choke Bogart’s voice before  I heard him say through gritted teeth “There’s a chassis to sashe with!”    Note to self: cut out reading Chandler.

Angel watched me approach the reception desk.

“If you’re staying in Burnthorpe your welcome to stay at mine until this is sorted.”

“At the pub?”

“The Vicarage.”  She continued, “There’s a spare room, if you want it.”  No signs, just a straight offer.  It made it easier to agree.

“You wait here, I’ll pay the bill then get my bags.”  I should have said rucksack, with its two unwashed items from yesterday but it’s only a habit. I had binned the carrier.

I went to the lift, she chose to wait in the bar.

It only took seconds to stuff shirt and boxers into the bag.  An automatic check round the room proved I had nothing to leave there. The sun flicked through the windows and off the mirror, catching my eye.  I am not one for bright sunlight so I turned my head a little.  Bad move. I saw myself in the mirror.

Three days since I shaved.  At least I had showered but the brown stubble I expected had patched into a thicker layer of grey bristles.  Not enough to be trendy but plentiful if you need to look gaunt, old and weary.  I must have lost weight as the creases down my jawbone sagged through the stubble.  “No wonder she offered me a room, I look homeless and friendless.”

I stopped the cynical voice before it started.   ‘And here I am with just an overused rucksack to my name’.  Excluding the car in the car park it was pretty accurate, actually.

The sun flashed into my eyes again. Stopped, flashed and stopped. Annoying.

Marlowe muttered something about reflections and mirrors and cuties.    I looked out the window.  It was not a pretty sight.  The railway lines ran a stones throw away.  You couldn’t see the station despite it being as close as a hundred metres.  Looking towards it I could see the signal lamps over each set of tracks fixed to the gantry above sets of points for switching lines.

I put a nose to the glass and looked out at the shabby building trackside.  You don’t see many of them nowadays.  An old signal box.   I couldn’t see inside, it’s windows almost one floor lower than my view and mostly greyed with dirt and rain from years of neglect.  I imagined it when it was a vital tool of the railways.  It would have been pristine cream with unbroken ornate eaves.  A  balcony with paling fencing, entered onto via a multipaned door.   That was my nostalgia kicking in.  In reality it was a near black ruin with its doorway jammed shut by an old wheelbarrow.  The sun seemed to reflect briefly off a corner pane.   Bogart would not be amused by this,  I turned to find an Angel; much more his style……

She was at the bar talking to the young man laying out beer mats.  She thanked him when I arrived at her shoulder.  She had been showing Adriana’s picture on her mobile.

“He’s not seen her.  Not seen any particularly odd blokes either.”

“How do you recognise odd?”

“Don’t worry, he would.  He pointed you out.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Guess I’ll go and search then. Coming?”

I followed her lead outside.

“How do you know Walter then?  He just said it was from a long time ago.”

I was tempted to ask the same question of her.  “He was on a course and I was a young lecturer. We got on well.  That’s it. Typical lads.  Went our own ways and now meet again, must be twenty years.”   She got my short version. “You?”

“I was a kid and he sorted a boyfriend out for me.  I’ve had a soft spot for him ever since. If he was a bit younger….or I was a bit different.”

We were walking to the back of the hotel, nettles and weeds aplenty.

She spoke again,” He said you ‘snuck off’ with his girl.“  Angel smiled at the words.

In front of us was the chainlink fence running along the tracks.

“I reckon they will start at the station soon.  We can start here and work towards the platform.”

Okay, this was where my affinity with Chandler thinned a bit.  I didn’t fancy climbing the fencing when the police would get there eventually.  She saw me looking at the barbed wire curled along the top in all directions.  Moving closer to the fence she scuffed down the weeds near a concrete post.  “Come on then!”

I approached and she somehow unhooked the fence and raised it like a curtain.  I foolishly started forward to help, got stung by nettles and accidentally leaned into her.  I felt myself blush as I regained my balance.  Obviously I had been entirely deserted by any of the suave cops I used to read.  Still, it is a memory I find quite easy to remember.  I was unsure of the look she gave me.  Our faces so close, briefly.  I just remember her eyes as we pressed together.

No words as I crouched under the raised fencing then held it up for Angel.

“We can’t just walk along the track!”

She nudged me and suggested we walk beside the track, because of the trains!  Towards the station.  I could stay this side and she would run over the tracks to the other side.  With that she was gone.

I didn’t think, I just followed her, jumping across those glistening tops of rails.  Eight rails and I am not very elegant, or, rather, athletic.   We must have both been mad.  At least she had looked, I just ran.  She shook her head at me as I arrived by her side.  Saying nothing.

We had our backs to that old signal box.  My mind slunk back to my eight-year-old self, “Let’s look at the signal box.”  I would love to get inside and see if the levers were still there, maybe they still pulled!  I wasn’t put off by another withering look.

Surprisingly, Angel followed me along the wall and round to the jammed door.

“Watch out for trains,” I was now aware how dangerous it was.

“Half an hour,” she said, “before the next one. “But it will be this track.”

We looked at the upturned wheelbarrow, rotted and stained but still solid enough to be jammed under the brass door handle.  It could have been there for years, since it closed.  I looked up to work out which hotel window I had looked out of, counting along.  The sun was high over the hotel and hitting the box’s windows.  I recalled the reflection into my room.   What if?   I looked at the barrow and it was firmly fixed at the top although on the ground there were long scraped strips of fresh soil at each handle.

“That looks quite recent.”  I thought out loud. “Maybe it wasn’t reflection.”

It was all too easy.  Move the wheelbarrow.  Pull the door open.  Angel was in the gap first and calling.  Muted response but someone, female, scared.

………………………

We looked before we crossed the tracks this time although aware we should have plenty of time.   Three of us scurried under the fence.  Angel had an arm round the dishevelled woman, guiding her back to the hotel entrance and hurried her to the bar area and into an armchair.

“You phone Walter,” she said. I didn’t have his number so she handed me her phone.

She was talking to the woman, Adriana, while I spoke to Walter.   He said he would come at once. I heard him shout to call off the search, then back to me to say, “I’m on my way.”

……………..

Walter arrived in short time, accompanied by d.s Winnie Maitland.   She went to the woman’s side and Walter to mine.

“Winnie can do the interview and put a call out on the bloke.” …. Assuming he was involved etcetera..  “how come you found her?”

I explained that Angel insisted on looking over the lines and I headed for the signal box for no very good reason.   Noticing the marks on the ground was key, I suppose.  Myself, I liked to think Adriana had been signalling me.  Somehow getting the reflection in my eyes.  Quite a classy thing to do.  A real storybook escape.  Maybe as good as any 40’s film, even of ’39 Steps’, standard.

We sat around.  Coffee appeared via Angel’s organisation.  She stayed with Adriana who spoke with detective Maitland.  Some time passed while I pumped yet another coffee from the urn they had brought out. then picked out a few biscuits and sat restlessly again.   I am not good at waiting.   More time.

Eventually Angel came over and said she could take Adriana to the Vicarage now but I would have to give them a couple of hours to settle.

“No problem”, was Walter’s quick response, “We can go to the station and take that statement.”

That was settled, then.

I had to tell my story to a different police woman.  Walter claimed he was actually retired now the woman was found. The detective I spoke to was going to follow it up, if there was anything to follow, that is, or was!    I think my tenses are somewhat confused now.

Anyway, it took a while. I just gave the salient details.  Basically the original phone call, meeting people and then the lucky search with Angel over the railway line.  I mentioned the possible signalling I saw from my window, just to add a little flavour to the story.  Without that it all sounded rather mundane, no hint of the ‘film noir’ that was in my mind.

Eventually we all ran out of conversation at the police station.  The few chairs that were filled had people staring at their computer screens and playing with keys or mice.  I was shown the canteen and waited for Walter to re-appear.

He turned up two more coffees later.

“Well, at least we know most of the story.”

“Here it comes”, I thought, “the denouement.”   I rested my chin on my hands and leaned forward across the table.  The eco-lights above my head not quite the spotlit shaft off Maigret’s  desk that would have been pointing directly into any visitors chair.   Where was the smell and blue gasping haze of Gaulouse cigarettes?  Or was it cigars? Pipe?    Walter sat opposite. No pipe. Large fingers and knuckles clasped lightly on the table.  He moved to stir his mug of tea; not a sign of nicotine or bruised knuckles.    “Perhaps I really should stop living in crime novels,” I thought, yet again.

“Is it finished?”  I said flatly.   Fool that I am!

“No, but I am. I am now officially off the case.  Any case, for that matter.  I am now one hundred percent retired.”   He picked up the mug and drank as though it was his favourite beer.

“Let me take you to Angel’s.  The Old Vicarage.  She will be waiting.  You can decide if you are staying the night.  Unless you want a night-drive”  More rhetoric than actual question.

Whose car was I in?  I had to re-run the day to realise it was mine.  Walter directed me the short distance to the Vicarage.  A large house set back off a dead-end road, not rambling but a bit mis-sharpen with age  and a few angled beams visible on the upper storey.  Deep eaves under a steep roof.  I could just see the roof tiles were layered in a two-tone zig-zag of red and orange.  Elizabethan or just mad builder?  Lights on behind drawn curtains.  Up the stepped path to the trellis presiding round the front door.  It opened.  Angel kissed Walter and let him in.  Ditto me.

Shortly after we were all seated in a big room filled with one settee and assorted armchairs, some of which were covered with fleece blankets.  Very much a room to relax and be comfortable in.  You could understand how frightened women, and children, could begin to feel safe.

We sat, Walter, myself, Angel and the newly rescued Adriana, plus the finely sculpted  Madelie who had been waiting in the house for some thirty six hours.   Adriana looked more bruised than her selfie.  Time and a shower had softened the bulge of her eye and socket but the bruising was much more and multi-coloured from almost black through purple to ochre to cream.  Even a touch of green, it seemed to me.  It must have been a savage attack by her partner……ex-partner.  The settees were  much more comfortable and companionable than the station canteen!  And we each had a glass of something to hand.

At last!   The full story got rounded out by each of us following the time-line, as it were, from when  Adriana was first put into contact for the safe-house.

Most of it is scattered through these notes but those  missing pieces of jigsaw were of the following:

The mobile going dead in the middle of the second call to me.   Was she kidnapped?      Adriana found trapped in the signal box, how did she get there?  Who blocked her escape with the barrow?     How did she signal me from inside?

So much for solving mysteries!

Well, for the first.  It seems Adriana was very scared by that text he sent, saying she was being followed and then even more scared when she spoke to me, a wrong number, twice.  At that moment she realised she had a tracking app. on her mobile.   That was how he could follow her every move.  In sheer frustration she had thrown her mobile, mid-call across the tracks, co-incidentally as the express approached.  Her phone hit the train and, surprise surprise, it broke and killed the call.

Was she kidnapped?  A text and the event made it a serious possibility.     Nope!  Scared anyway, she ran down the platform, off the slope at the end and trackside.  We were all surprised she wasn’t seen and at least shouted at!  Anyway she reached the old signal box, saw the door ajar and ran inside to hide.

Who rammed the wheelbarrow against the door to stop her leaving?    No-one had any ideas.  Obviously someone, probably a passing railman but no idea at that moment.

So she was stuck there.  First of all hiding in fear then just unable to get out.

I had decided she had cleverly signalled to me and asked how she did it.      She hadn’t!  So us finding her was all down to Angel on a whim to search at the back of the hotel.

Where’s the clever solving of clues then?

And finally; it seemed she wasn’t being followed, chased, whatever.  The threats on the texts were just that.  All his texts were sent from the one place.  He had been taunting, not following.

At the end of all that talking there was little sense of satisfaction but maybe relief that it might have been so much worse.  So that was it, the evening broke up.

I was shown a room for the night, gratefully accepted. 

Finally, as I switched off the bedside light, I wondered if this visit to Burnthorpe would be my last.  “ Of all the places in all the world, how did I get here?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Magazine Story

 

“……… And that, dear reader, was the beginning of the beginning!………”

 

The magazine made a lazy scrunching noise as I screwed it up then tossed it to the other end of the settee.  Even more annoying was it sliding off the cushion and onto the dog’s back. From a mildly twitching sleep she jumped onto all four legs before looking round and down at the runkled pages lying where she had been.  A baleful, accusing, look at me and she collapsed again with all four legs splayed out, snout flat on the floor and a heavy sigh. That was it!

Wouldn’t you have expected more of a reaction?  Not that the magazine was heavy, maybe the equivalent of a stiff pillow landing on your back when you are fast asleep  but even then the shock ought to be more than a look and a disappointed sigh.

Mind, I never got worse than that when the phone rang and I had to get up and go out, leaving the wife, when we should have been in bed playing about!    I suppose I should say ‘having sex’ but I always was old-fashioned.  Yes, I got too used to a look and a sigh.  So did she, I suppose, watching me leave in the middle of the night.  It got too regular.  Me always going rather than coming.

Then it did get worse.  She left.  I got home at ten in the morning after an extended shift all night.  A messy GBH, bit of a chase and then the interview and write-up.  By then I had been awake over twenty four hours and managed to say ‘hello’ before hauling myself upstairs and collapsing on the bed.   She called ‘Bye, I’m leaving’ up the stairs.  I didn’t even hear the door close.

You guessed it!  She was gone.  I woke mid-afternoon, stiff as a board, with the dog doing its deer-hound impression in a desperate attempt to get someone to open the door to get out.  Eventually I twigged and scrambled down to open the garden door.  Even more eventually I saw the note leaning against the kettle.   A very small scrap of paper with just one line written on it, the last word squeezed in and nearly falling over the edge.   I read it as I waited for the kettle to boil.    What do you do?     I read it again.  So short a note and no ifs or buts; gone!

All the emotions you would expect filtered through me, I won’t actually say them, use your imagination!  The problem was that I was due on shift again in three hours and still had a dog dropping toys at my feet trying to entice me into the garden to play.    It was okay for the dog having just relieved itself; it took no notice of my predicament.  Mind you it hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that I was now it’s benefactor.    It would have been more worried if it had realised sooner.

I read the brief one-line letter again.  You really ought to say more than ‘I’m leaving and won’t be back’, and that written on a torn-off strip two inches high.  Maybe that’s what I deserve.  We never had much quiet time.  Had!  Work eats into your life and there’s no life left!

I spent the next hour drinking more mugs of tea than I should, sliced some cheese, made some toast and broke it into a cheese sandwich.   The dog.  Can’t leave the dog all night on its own, haven’t even taken it for a walk.    Sod it!

I brushed the crumbs off my shirt, realised I was still in the same clothes I put on thirty-six-odd hours ago and looked at the phone. I didn’t dare ring her mobile.  I think I smelled of my own sweat, maybe the smell from the victims vomit hung around me too. The dog dropped the toy at my feet yet again and pleaded, eye to eye with me.

Resolutely I moved to the phone and rang the Station. We don’t have such a thing as HR just the Duty Sargent.  I rang him, spoke with a bit of a hitch in my voice and just garbled that the wife had walked out and I had to look after the dog until I could sort something out.

I relented over the dog and went into the garden.  It followed, pushed its way past me at the door and collapsed by the wall of the yard; looked at me from its prone position, eyes flickering between me and the ball it had let dribble out of its mouth.    We played for a few minutes.  I threw the ball onto a paving slab for it to bounce onto and off the yard wall at an angle for the dog to jump overly-excitedly and catch it.  Thud, bonk, scrabble.  Thud, bonk, scrabble.  And a third time.  Fourth time the dog just watched as the ball rebounded and bounced mildly on the slabs to a stop.    She sat on her haunches, looked at the ball and up at me.  A quick stick-out of her tongue and strolled back indoors.  Typical!

So, another satisfied customer.   At least it didn’t involve projectile vomit or handcuffs this time.

I followed the dog.

Back indoors, shift cancelled, dog played with, I had eaten; nothing for it but to watch television for an hour or maybe get the whisky bottle.  I should have gone to work.   No time to think there.   Always doing something even if only gossiping or catching up with ongoing crime.   Sorry, should call them cases these days, they are not crimes until CPS tells us to proceed and that only happens if all forensics are there; and on and on.  Even when they put their hands up it still has to hang around getting the paperwork certified.

I sat there like that.  Thinking.   Soaps were on, I couldn’t watch them without the wife being there.  They were her favourites, I usually just sat and half-watched.  That was good enough to follow the storylines until the police programmes at nine o’clock.    I stopped thinking and watched the dog wash its arse yet again.  That reminded me I still hadn’t showered but I couldn’t be bothered.  ‘Still too tired’ I thought to myself but knew it was more than that.

Maybe I was working too hard, rather, too often.  But there is always work to catch up, thieves or whatever’s to chase and officers off sick to cover for.  I can understand when they get hurt, that’s often enough, but all the buggers that claim tension or depression get my goat.  They should get up off their backsides and back on the job.  I do.  I work day after day, or rather night after night getting covered in sick or kicked or somesuch just like the others.  You put on a brave face, pretend to smile even if you haven’t slept a wink for days.   You have to be nice to the public,  positive with colleagues, always watching their back, your back.  My back!  What would it matter anyway.  There’s always some other sodding policeman to step in the gap when your down.

When I’m down?  I’m always down, always working, always angry or tired.   Both.   Poor girl, all she’s got for company is the bloody dog.   Looking at you all the time, trying to tell you something.  Always wants to be sitting beside you, head on your lap and pleading for sympathy.   Sympathy?   Who needs sympathy when you have to get up and be assaulted in the streets because you wear a uniform.   Stick to it.  Forget what the gov. says, and the doctors.  And look at today.  What am I worth?  A torn-off scrap of paper with not even a goodbye, just ‘I’m leaving’ .

It couldn’t be worse!  What happens now?  Self-pity is what I call it.  Depression they said but I don’t hold with it.

I sat there and saw the television screen glaze over and heard voices mangled.

Okay, I picked up the magazine, found the shortest story I could and forced myself to read it.

“One page:  cozy, girlie chat in a cafe. My goodness, where do they dig up these short stories!

It started off badly, surprise surprise! And then it frayed me at the edges as they started realising they were two peas in a pod, or some such rubbish and actually liked all the same stuff.   Within two thousand words they had moved from enemies to bosom-buddies about to house-share because of their mutual two-timing boyfriend!”

That’s how it finished; with the ‘beginning of the beginning….’.   And I crumbled the magazine and threw it and it fell onto the dog.    Okay, I admit it now, I sat there, misty-eyed, watching the dog settle again with its huge sigh.  I sat there.  Sat there.   Sat there in the now dark room for however long.

I never heard the front door open, no click disturbed my darkness.   A familiar hand ruffled my hair, a quick kiss on my balding spot.

“Hello love, shouldn’t you be at work?”

“I thought I would keep the dog company.”  I didn’t dare move or imagine, just fiddled with the note she had left me.   Folded it into a narrow strip and then again while she went upstairs.  Maybe to pack another bag?    I unfolded the note, flattened it on my knee.    I heard the toilet flush, tap run and then her feet on the stairs as I looked down at that unforgiving note.

..’..until really late, sorry, love you lots!’

She came into the room, ” I had to go and see Carol, she’s so upset! That husband of hers has left her.  It’s so good to get back here”. She sat heavily beside me, snuggled closer and grabbed my hand holding the note.

“Sorry it was on a scrappy piece,” she waved the hand she held, that held the note,  “it was the first bit I found in the drawer and I was in an awful rush, only just room even on both sides.”

The dog, intrigued by the waving hands with the fluttering piece of paper actually moved to sit in front of us and swayed her head sideways in its rhythm.  To me, she was shaking it in a,  “I told you not to panic”, mode.

I gently squeezed the hand that supported mine.

 

 

 

tags:  Burnthorpe

 

 

Little Sparrows

Madelie suddenly realised she must be feeling better.  Or rather, on consideration, as she was singing along with the radio, happier.  She could feel herself jiggling with the music as she peered into the wardrobe and ran her fingers along the shoulders of the hangers and their draped clothes.

“This little piggy went to market……” as she twisted the cream and chocolate crimplene dress for a fuller view before moving on, “This little piggy stayed at home……..”. As she moved on to a purple square-necked cotton shift, briefly, before alighting on the orange trouser-suit and with a “wee, wee, wee” deftly unhooked the hanger and settled the suit smoothly on the bed.    A simple white-collared blouse followed though she had more difficulty over a choice of tie.  Three were laid over the orange jacket in the hope that one claimed her attention most.

Pleased at making these decisions she looked out of the window through the large-patterned net and at the sun creeping above the houses opposite.  The chimneys drew black shadows along the terrace of sloping slate roofs and the nearest added the skinny shadows of the television aerials.

Maybe it was the rising sunshine that had lifted her above that black line in her mind under which she had been hiding for so long.  Hiding?  Yes, she had been hiding, it felt like it.  But what from?

She folded her arms and took a step closer to the glass and saw some sparrows dipping into the gutter opposite, reappearing with tufts of lichen then disappearing in a flurry of wings.

She looked down at the thin red streaks on the inside of her left arm, just below the elbow.  Stared out of the window again and lowered her folded arms a little, hugged them tighter to her ribs so her breast hid the marks.  The sparrows returned and busily tussled in the guttering and flew off again as each grabbed some packing for a nest.

Madelie had almost lost that sunshine moment but breathed it in again as a cloud shifted in the breeze and a shaft of sunlight hit her eyes making her turn away from it.   The movement brought the radio back into focus and “didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to Bangor!” made her smile again and back to dressing.

Fresh underwear stepped into,  bra settled into and hooks briefly struggled  with.  Sitting on the edge of the bed she folded first one leg of the tights over her hand then her toes into the toe of the nylon and unwound it over her foot to knee then repeated the operation before standing and adjusting the ridged waist-seam up to her hips.  Finally checking, straightening and smoothing the whole legs.   On the whole, she thought, tights were more comfortable than stockings, unless you snagged a leg, got a hole, then you had to bin the lot.  With stockings you stood a chance of having  a spare that matched.

Next was the blouse. Still smooth from being ironed though not that slightly crisp feel had it been freshly ironed.  Definitely not warm like straight off the ironing board!   She bent her head to watch her fingers button the blouse from top to bottom and brush away imaginary creases.

The radio chattered, early morning, bright and breezy cajoling from the ‘dj’ before another record, “now it’s time for ‘Mott the Hoople’ ” and the music slid into her head again.

Foot and leg, slight wobble, other foot and leg and she drew the orange trousers up high and adjusted her hip so she could pull the side-zip up then hook-and-eye the waist-tab securely.

She looked down at her flame-orange legs and indecision crept in. “Too bright?”  She had been a shabby dresser for so long that this was a dramatic step too far, she feared, briefly.

“No,” she said  aloud, “I’ll match the sunshine!”  And she turned to decide on the tie.

End over, hand over, round and under and through, eventually she got the rhythm and directions right and looked at herself in the mirror again to adjust the tie.   It was one of the newest style. Narrow Italian silk and design of bright horizontal bars of colour that eventually repeated after a scattering of red, white, green, yellow, orange, blue.

After a final easing the knot at her neck and removal of a defiant piece of fluff from her trousers she    Retrieved the jacket from the bed and eased into and buttoned it. Looked in the mirror and undid the buttons. More satisfied this time she left the room, grabbed her bag, checked for keys then rushed out of the little flat to try to gather some lost time.

Her rushing from the door down the short path and turning to briefly jog into town flushed the sparrows out of the hedge whisked them back up to the guttering in a series of squawks. Within a few steps Madelie slowed to a brisk walk and the sparrows had drifted back into the comfort of the hedge.

Walter didn’t recognise Madelie.

“Hi! Mr policeman.”

“Mornin’ …….”. No more than a word and a half-raised arm as the woman in the orange trouser.-suit walked smartly passed him. He watched the brightly coloured figure swinging away from him, her short black hair sculpted to her head. She turned the corner but he failed to recognise the side-on figure and features as she moved out of view.   He thought no more about it and went back to running his eyes around the street.  “Being observant” his sergeant called it.  So he continued walking, enjoying the sun warming the fresh morning with his people-watching and eaves-dropping on his way to a tea-break in a local cafe.

He too turned the corner, stopped briefly to click his radio and let the control room know he was having his break before turning the speakers volume down to a less startling level and entering his usual cafe.  The man behind the counter called a greeting and promised to bring the tea and sandwich to Walter, as usual.

“Thanks,” he called out and looked to his seat at the window.  The girl in the orange suit  was at his table in the window and he hesitated to go there.   She smiled at him, waved him to her and then he recognised her as Madelie, one of the irregular customers at the Jolly Puritan pub.  She used to sit near him, out of the way of the more effusive drinkers and darts players but more recently perched on a bar-stool and chatted with Angel working behind the bar.

“I didn’t recognise you.” He said, sitting opposite.  Her coffee was delivered and “I’ll bring your tea and sarnie” said to Walter by the man before he dashed back behind the counter to the kitchen.

“Good.” She said decisively to Walter. “I decided to change my wardrobe like I’m changing my outlook.”

“You mean from drab beatnik to flower-power girl?”  he meant it as a compliment but she looked at him blankly, stopped the grin before it appeared at his somewhat behind-the-times remark.

Madelie smiled inwardly as she forgave his comment.   “Not so much that. More that I decided I should try the happy, smiley person in me instead of miserable and mopey.  I woke-up this morning and today I changed into a brighter me.”

“You can say that again.”  He said. “In the pub you match all the shadows, dressed in that orange you can be seen for miles.”  Walter felt it lacked a complimentary feel so added, “You look great!”

Silence as his tea and sandwich were placed on the table.

Embarrassed, he took to stirring his tea then gave attention to his bacon sandwich while Madelie looked outside and watched the pigeons, no they were doves, trailing along the kerb bumping each other as they chased invisible crumbs.

“I’m just here for a quick breakfast break.” He spoke to break the silence.

She turned back to Walter and felt again how reassuring she found his presence with his solid form, especially in the safe police-uniform and his not unattractive face. He had let his hair get a bit longer since she had seen him, more over his ears than tightly shaved round them. Even his side-burns had been allowed to grow, she noticed.  Madalie surprised herself by thinking he looked much more fun now than when he had walked her home after the night in the Jolly Puritan. “Perhaps he has decided to go for flower-power!” She smiled briefly at this thought, echoing his out-moded imaging.

Walter caught her smile and passed one back, which they both held as their eyes also smiled to each other.    He broke away first, taking the serviette and wiping at the grease on his fingers. Not completely successful he shook his head sadly and took out his handkerchief to wipe a finger. He was relieved it was a clean one, if she actually noticed!   He quickly stuck it back in his pocket.

The young woman watched him over her coffee cup and sipped at it as he looked back at her.

“Time for me to go. I think of this as fifteen minutes community work as well as breakfast, you know.”   He stood and picked his helmet off the floor and adjusted it straight and strap tucked neatly under his chin.

“I didn’t realise I was your social work” she smiled up at him.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant” concerned he leaned on the table, prepared to sit and explain.

Madelie stopped him with a hand put on his, “I was joking,” she said up to him, “Its nice to see you.

Let’s talk in the pub next time. We can put the juke-box on and annoy them with the Stones or Bob Dylan.  They’ll all ignore us then.”

He relaxed a little. She moved her hand off his.

“Yes, that would be great. See you at the end of the week. My shifts change Thursday so, Friday then?”

“It’s a date!”

He nodded, “See you, then. Bye.”   Did she mean a date? As in date?  He paid for his meal, gave her a surreptitious wave as he walked passed her to the door.  Outside, as he walked on she returned the wave.  The two ring-doves hopped and flapped a few yards away at the policeman’s sudden appearance then settled to strutting and pecking again as he proceeded on his beat.

Madelie had suggested the meeting in the pub on a bit of a whim.  She often saw him at the pub, sometimes sat next to him but they rarely chatted except when it was a quiz or darts night.  On the latter it was more a shout than chat to get any words over the clamour of the players.

More recently she had perched herself on a chair at the bar when Angel was working.  At least  they could talk in the quieter moments.  Angel had become such a good friend. ‘Actually’, Madelie admitted to herself, ‘Angel helped me climb out of the black, lonely hole I was in.’

She went to the counter, purse in hand but, “The copper paid for yours too” added another little shaft of sunlight to her day.

The day breezed along as sunnily as it had started.  Working in a shop kept her busy. Meeting and greeting customers was sometimes daunting but often it was young women around her age and younger that were easiest to talk with.  The best parts was when she was able to help them chose from the new dresses that blossomed round the shop. Mary Quant was on everybody’s lips and bodies, for that matter.

At lunch-time several clutches of noisy girls came to rush their break in the dress-shop in preference to eating.   The newest and brightest dresses hung from the current mannequins on the staging in the windows. One or two models scattered on plinths next to the rack of special design or label, their backs to the rack where the carefully crafted pinning would be undetected down the back of the dress.  From the the front the nipping gave a glowing elegance to the dress despite the vacant chalk eyes and bald head.   Along one of the back walls stood the older models covered in pinafore and printed cotton. Large flowers or blocks of Parisian street scenes flowing down to the shins but failing to detract from the armless and headless upper reaches of the model.

The girls would come and go as individuals, the door opening and ringing the bell like an old bed-ridden aunt who is necessarily impatient for attention. Repeating as the door closed. In a small town most people grow-up together, young newcomers often getting whirled up with new friends.  Leaving school and first jobs means catch-up time when they meet and where better than a dress shop full of the latest, brightest and shortest clothes?

Labels, nippy copies. Bright colours and acid designs. Boucle with its softness and crimplene galore with its myriad of colours and prints.  Mary Quant held apart from Biba, or gingham versus Mondrian next to touches of Monet and Picasso.  The whole shop could echo with giggles and gossip as they dared each other to the lowest V or most showy thigh.  Pleated skirts that flew as they moved or denim that hugged and pleaded with outrageous zips.  Sometimes one would be dared too far and she would buy and hug the bag excitedly with an “I’ll wear at the next party!”  Or “I darent show my dad nor my mum for that matter” even a “Roy won’t know what hit ‘im.  I will have to keep me knees tight” and many variations on the theme.

Lunch time passes and the flocks of chattering girls drift away.

Madelie’s day moves along too and the early morning lady swaps brief notes and gossip with the replacement afternoon assistant.  Madelie, working a middle shift, as it were, makes them all a mug of tea, including the owner who arrives, chauffeured by her son in his new car.  He calls them all outside to coo over his vermillion, open top, Austin Healey Sprite.   “Best car I’ve ever had,” he chirps, “mind you I nearly got the new Mini but I was too cramped driving. This one’s only a two-seater but there’s more room.”

“He forgot to say his old car was a Ford Anglia!”  Said his mother. “He only got this to annoy me; and attract the girls.”

“Right on both counts.” He responded, “Can I take you home, mrs Emersby?” and opened the door for her.  She got in with a little difficulty, hoicking her skirt up higher than intended and trying to pull the hem over her knees after sitting down; failing and resigning herself to seeing her knees within worrying closeness to the gear leaver as he curled himself back into the drivers seat.

She started to wave but gripped the edge of the door as he lurched away.  He flung a ‘sorry!’ her way as he changed gear and they dashed off, the remaining women turned back to the shop.

“I must say, you’ve taken to brighter colours like a duck to water.”  Madelie was appraised by the owner as they stood behind the small counter. “And you make a fine mug of tea.” She took a mouthful and spoke again, a tender tone replacing the jocular, “And you’re smiling a lot more.”

Madelie took a slow sip from her mug and considered.  She watched as a couple hesitated outside, the girl quickly studied the mannequin’s dresses in the window, pointed at one and was ushered away by the young man at her side.  After a few steps she stopped, he stopped and shrugged as she pushed through the door. She moved for a closer look at the dress and he found a nearby lamppost to lean on and watch the traffic flow while he waited.

“Yes,” said Madelie, I do smile more. I suppose one smile just brings on another.” She turned and looked at the older woman. “Thanks.”

No need to recall the darker days of the last few months.  She had turned a corner and realised that music was still playing and new friends were better than the old.  She still missed the black jumper and cardigan and one day she would even dig them out.  Perhaps that little Chinese lady had been right!  Even the policemen were nicer these days.  She put her mug down.

“I had better get on and change these ladies.”   And proceeded to select the new blouses and jumpers for the assorted torsos around the shop walls.

…………..

PC Walter Copper’s day had proceeded in a similarly innocuous way.  He paced his way along his beat, stopping, chatting and observing and by lunchtime had worked his way back to the station.  A quick lunch break in the canteen and then a short time filling in his day-sheet, wishing he had more than a couple of memos in his pocket-book.  No actions other than a brief companionable chat with old Joe the tramp and a brief word on the time of day with several of the old chaps sitting outside on a bench sunning themselves.   A smile and cheery greeting from Winnie the new WPC at the station as they passed; he off home and she arriving for the evening shift.  He cycling, she walking.

A few minutes later and he was wheeling his bike to his front path and the shed at the side where it stood.  He tried to shut the low gate by leaning sideways whilst holding the bicycle saddle to keep himself and bike more or less upright. Just reaching, he pushed the gate and it crashed on its post and latch before catching on its rebound.  The noise of the clash scattered a ribbon of shouting sparrows out of the hedge and into the tree of the neighbour’s garden.

“Sorry spadgers,” he muttered, regained his balance and pushed on to park his bike and go indoors.

The house was sadly quiet as he sat to wait for the kettle to boil.  It took a long time for the water to bubble and the steam to build up enough pressure to push through the whistle on the wide spout.

He sat watching the kettle, knowing he shouldn’t.

“That’s another day without a story to tell.” he thought, “Except maybe the sparrows.”

 

 

Burnthorpe,  Madelie Carew,

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mystery of Catbrain Lane

WPC Winnie Maitland was new to policing.  This was her first posting after Passing Out and it had been to the sticks of Burnthorpe.  She was not very impressed.  Either with the town or its crime rates. Or rather what the crimes seemed to consist of.   “Mind you”, she thought, “it’s better to be outside than in that wretched little rest-room they put aside for the women working in the station.”

She shifted her feet into a more comfortable angle on the grass slope they stood on. Winnie was waiting for her companion to say something, or was he expecting her to conclude something from the scene?  She sighed and looked down at the mud now creeping over the toes of her once polished black lace-up shoes…”I suppose it’s better than talking lipstick with the secretary, or dress making with Sarg’s wife when she brings him the sandwiches he leaves behind.  Why won’t he tell her he hates sandwiches and eats at the pub?”

Winnie looked across the miniature valley again then at the young policeman at her side and back to the silent scene before them.   Her thoughts wandered: “I bet Wendy was picked up again last night. If I could talk with her, get her to explain what’s so wrong.  It must be something. I could help, whatever it is.”

“It’s a vardo.”   Walter Copper spoke at last.

“What is?”

“That is.”

“For goodness sake! The campsite, the tent, the caravan, maybe the horse?  Be more specific.  Please!”   Winnie didn’t have time for all this silence and now the guessing games.

“The caravan. They all live in it and travel in it.  It’s a  ‘vardo’,  a Romany caravan.  The children sleep in the tent if there is no room in the van.  There’s always some children.”

“There’s no-one about. It looks clean, even the wheels.”

“They always are.”

“The horse is just standing there, not even tied to a tree or anything.”

“Hobbled.”

“Oh.”  She was beginning to lose patience with this struggling conversation. “There’s no one there, it looks pretty.  Pretty okay, that is.  Shall we be off?”

With that she turned to walk back the way they arrived.

“Wrong way.” he said, ” Up through that open gate and down the lane at the back,” and walked forward down the little slope where the grass leaked into the mud at the side of the small brook running through the lowest point of this valley’s meadow.  WPC Winnie followed unhappily with each squelching step.

Walter took a large step over the narrowest part of the stream. Winnie stopped at the edge as it was too wide for her to step over with the uniform skirt she was wearing to below her knees. “Damn, how you’re supposed to be able to run in this!.”  Hesitating enough to let Walter move forward, he never bothered to look back, she took a step backwards. He continued forwards  toward the ‘vardo’.  WPC Winnie Maitland grabbed at the lower sides of the skirt with both hands and yanked the hemline up high and took a step and a leap over the brook, keeping sight of the spot for her landing.  At the high point of her exaggerated leap Walter turned to offer help just in time to see a flash of police woman’s black stocking top and white thigh.

She landed squarely, without slipping and brushed her skirt smoothly down. He was facing the caravan again as she looked up to follow.

gypsy-caravanHe stopped within a few feet of the steps down from the front of the  vardo, the lower half of its ‘stable’ door closed.  Winnie caught him up and continued to the tent beside the caravan, lifted the fly and peered inside.

“Looks cosy in here. The quilting is really pretty, all hand stitched and lots of it. Nobody in, of course.”  She stood up. “Come on Walter, my feet are soaking, can’t we get back to the station now?”

He stopped imagining the inside of the van, piecing what he could see with what he had been told as a youngster.  The bright paintwork inside and the clever fixtures with all the decorated panels and the nick-nacks and family icons, heirlooms, that would be safely packed away for the travelling and put on display when parked up for a few days, or weeks at a time.  Reverie broken he started to traipse up the slope to his companion and the open gate to the lane.

As he reached Winnie they heard a stifled, almost scream, from behind them and he grabbed at her arm. “What was that?”

“The horse?” She said hopefully and looked at the horse, still as a statue standing on three legs, its fourth slightly cocked, seemingly off the ground.  Head drooping slightly, ears just at alert, it didn’t seem interested in anything.

“I seen ya!”  A woman’s voice panted from inside the van.

Policeman looked at policewoman. “Come on”, he said and moved toward the van.  A gulped noise from the van and a pained, “Holy, holy, holy”.

Walter put a foot on the second step and grabbed at the ledge of the half-door ready to push himself into ‘who knows what’.  His head appeared above the door and he could see into the bright interior of the vardo.

“Don’t you dare come in here Copper. The woman can!”    His head remained in situ until he reversed quickly to the ground and pushed into the WPC as she stood at the bottom of the steps. She was knocked away as his back reversed into her.

“You go up, she needs you.”  His eyes were wide as he spoke.  His reaction seemed urgent so with a quick shrug of shoulders and a hoarse “What?”, at him.  She brushed him aside and climbed the steps.  At the top she looked in, “Oh no!”  Fumbled the bolt open and clambered into the cabin of the van.

“What do I do?”  She called from inside.

“You’ve done the course more recently than me.” He called back quickly, “Anyway, I’m not allowed in.”

The woman shouted at them to “stop mithering and shut up”.

“Shall I radio for help, for an ambulance?”  He called up to them.

“No!”  Yelled the woman.  Walter said no more and took his hand off the radio at his shoulder.

“What do I do now?”   He heard Winnie ask in a panicky voice.

“What I tell yoi.” The firm response.

Walter walked over to the horse at the rear of the caravan.  He was trying to keep out of the way but in earshot.  After some time he heard swearing, assumed it was the woman but couldn’t be sure.  Heard a short high-pitched scream that wasn’t the woman and more silence.   The horse responded to his rubbing its neck by pushing towards him and bending his neck so the brown and white head knocked into Walter”s arm.

“No, no apple for you, Pie”.  Rejected, the head turned away. Then he heard the wail from the van.  A thin, angry squeal that briefly filled the the scenic little meadow-valley they stood in.  The piebald’s ears twitched to alert in the direction of the sound.   PC Walter decided he had to go and do his duty and check on his colleague.

He gingerly tiptoed up the steps, peered over the ridge of the door and continued to the top step where he leaned on the ledge with both hands and spoke to the WPC,  “How is she?”

“She did fine,” said the woman quickly, now draped in a huge, hugely patterned quilt and sitting on a mound of cushions on the bench at the side.

“I thought she would faint but she kept a head on her shoulders.   Its her first one I reckon.” She continued, looking at Winnie.

WPC Winnie Maitland stood at the back of the vardo, next to the neat black-leaded stove, still warm from the small fire kept in it.   She held a bundled cream shawl in her arms and was beaming into the wrinkled face inside.

“Ere, give ‘er me.”  The woman waved her arms for the newborn baby and Winnie relinquished the baby-parcel to its mother.

“What type is it?” He screwed his eyes at his wrong words.

“It’s a girl-type.  You know, female?” Said Winnie.

“As long as its out, any type will do.”  Said the woman softly to the baby. She put her forehead to the babe’s then kissed the little creased brow.  The baby cried.  She rocked it in her arms.

“What will you call her?”  Asked Walter.

“What’s your name?” Came the reply, looking at Winnie.

“I’m Winnie and he’s Walter,” came the hopeful response.

“Well,  Winnie,  thanks for the help.  You can leave as soon as you like.  My girls will be back from runnin’ the town any minute now so you can trot along.  Their dad and the lads will get back before sunset so we can get on.”

“Oh.”  Winnie, slightly abashed,  looked at Walter, “Shouldn’t we stay, call a doctor or something?”

‘If she says we go we can go.” He shrugged.  “You said lads and girls, are you sure they able to help you. You might need help.”

‘Three boys with their dad and the two girls here at camp, should be enough for me to keep under me thumb.”

“Right then, I will radio in that we are back on the beat.”  Said Walter, ” Come along WPC Maitland”, and he turned down the steps to hear Winnie ask:

“Has she a name? I’d like to remember today, and her and all this, and you.”

“She’ll have my name, it’s Catherine.  She’s the sixth generation with the name.  In fact”, she continued proudly, “she’s the sixth generation to be born in this very spot. Not the van but this meadow.  We’ve travelled these lanes for a hundred years now, so be it, a hundred more.”

Winnie stroked a finger gently down the baby’s shawl, “‘Bye, Catherine”,  and stepped out and down to Walter.   They walked to the gate and onto the rough tarred road towards town.

“She didnt want us there, did she?”

“Doesn’t need us, once the baby’s born. In fact you turned up at the exact right time.”  Walking through the gate.

“Shall I shut it?” Putting her hand on the top of the five bar gate.

“No. she said they were returning soon”

“I hope the baby will be okay. I think I will get a midwife to call just in case.”

“She won’t thank you for it.

They continued down the lane and stopped at its junction with a properly metalled road back into town.  Two girls came screaming round the corner in long chequered dresses and flaring cardigans.  They stopped as they met the two police officers. Looked at them both.  Giggled into each other’s shoulders.  Whispered conversation briefly.  Within seconds they were separate again and looked at both constables. With another outburst of giggles they plonked the wicker baskets they were carrying on their heads with one hand and immediately danced round  the two adults with a teasing, “Copper Copper, who’s a Copper Copper?”  And were off up the lane apparently screaming in fear of their lives.

“That’s the two girls”. Walter remarked casually, watching them run away.

“You’ve seen them before, then?”

“Oh yes, a few times.”

Winnie walked to the turf at the side of the road and tried wiping the mud off her shoes and only succeeded in spreading it more thinly. “Damn”, she thought out loud.  Walter watched.

She saw the etched black letters of the road sign and made a connection,

“This is the same name as on the gate to that field. This is Catbrain Lane and that was Catbrain Meadow on the gate.  Where on earth does that name come from?  Was there a cat-murderer on the loose?”

Walter moved on, Winnie followed but they had to step into the gutter as a truck rushed towards them. One headlight was covered over with tape and they could see four hunched bodies squashed in the cab as it approached and sped past.  The klaxon sounded as it neared and a few hands waved gaily as it scrunched by. The sides were heightened by planks above the wooden sidewall. The two automatically turned to watch it hurl round the corner. It slowed right down, choked into a lower gear and blue-smoked its way round to roar up the incline.

“That’s the dad and brothers” he said turning back and walking on.

“She was right then.”

“She’s always right.”

“You know them all then?”  She was intrigued now. What mischief had they been up to?  She reckoned Walter Copper was the sort of bloke that always had mishaps and teasing.  Suspected he was easily embarrassed.  Wondered how he could actually be an effective policeman.  Began to think she wanted a different beat, or rather a different colleague to show her this tin-pot little town.

“Catbrain” he started.

“Who me?” She tried it as a joke, it landed nowhere.

“It’s not dead cats, you know.”  They were walking briskly now needing to get back to the station. They had kept in touch by the radio but now the desk sergeant was getting impatient. He had allowed them to deal with the emergency but was not happy with their inaction re medical care and wanted an immediate report written up.

“It’s a joke, sort of.”

“Some joke.”

“Well, yes.  That’s a Romany field up there, has been for years. Like she said, it’s been used as a laying-up camp for several generations.   A fact, it’s not generally known, but we do.  Old families in the town that is.”

“Come on,” she thought, get on with it.  Your so slow, just like everyone round here. “The travellers own that land?  I didn’t think they owned anything, just wandered around all the time.”

“Romany, gypsy.   She, they, are Romany, not travellers. There is a difference. They might own some land but only in place to place for stopping.  They don’t stay long in one place.  Always on the move to earn a living.”

“Like tinkers, you mean?”

“No, not like tinkers.”  He was getting sidetracked. “The name of the lane and the field.  The field came first but the lane just followed on with the same name after a while.  All fields had, well, have, names. They just do and Roads running by or to usually catch the name.  Like Church Road or Vicarage Lane in towns. ”

“Catbrain?”  She was scornful, “Some joke!”

“It’s that clan’s family name.” He paused too long and she made a noise of disbelief.

“The family name is ‘Brain’.    She told you, in the caravan. The baby’s name,”

“Is Catherine.  Is Catherine!  It’s Cat., short for Catherine.  Catherine Brain!”

“They keep the family first name, the ancestors if you will, in their memory. They keep them to themselves. They have special times, gatherings and storytelling.  Parties with memories and storeytelling; oral history.”

“Sagas round a camp fire?”

“They’re not Vikings! Well yes, family stories, true or just elaborated.”

“And this ‘joke’ does everyone know about it?”

“Not particularly, it’s not shouted about but I suppose outsiders do know.  They like to keep their secrets, their privacy. They don’t really see it as a joke, either.  Don’t go telling all and sundry.  I only told you because you helped the baby get born.”

She wasn’t bothered, it wasn’t too much of a secret to keep, easy to forget.  But watching a baby being born! That really would be something to write home about!  Though she did ask:

“How do you know all this if it’s a sort of secret joke?”

“Well.”   The station was in sight and he had to tell another sort-of secret.  “She’s my auntie, that’s why I had to stay out when she told me to.  My dad married one of her sisters and they set up home in  Burnthorpe.    I visit them when they arrive here.  Just to keep in touch.  They know I’m  police  but I promised to drop it whenever I am on their property.  Which I do, as long as I can.”

By which time they had reached the station, feet in unison up the two stone steps.  “It’s a sort of secret, though.”  He finally whispered into her ear.

Another one she felt able to keep.

 

for more visits, tag Burnthorpe

 

 

Busie Warboys versus Eddy Stone

Busie Warboys versus Eddy Stone

The publican rarely slept well. Maybe he was tied to his life running the pub. He had no family, no wife or relatives to call on. Just him and the pub. Himself and the Jolly Puritan.

The closest he had was the vicar, his padre from the old ‘warrior’ days like  Arnhem.  Vicars wife Maureen, less so but still a friend.  But then she was everyone’s friend, always smiling and willing to chat but not one for him to confide in.  Angel, their daughter was like family.  He would do anything for her, did, as good as.

The clock downstairs struck a stifled twice.  2a.m.   Busie lay on his bed, thick arms hoisted up and clasped under his head.  The slightly raised angle pressed his chins down upon each other but his breathing was clean and deep down into his barrel chest. His stomach muscles were still firm and serviceable despite the flab depositing all over the lower surface of his body.  Too much beer, too much food, too much hospitality and to be honest, not enough exercise.  Despite running around checking everything he was more ‘ mein host’ than active. There was the cellar-man who also worked the bar all week,  Deena who worked the bar weekends and Angel through the weekdays and a couple who took turns to help whenever they were needed.

His legs were short despite his large body. He had thrown the sheet off his body in the heat of the night so his feet caught the drift of breeze whenever it managed to sidle across the room from the open window.  He breathed fully in, his lungs enlarged like organ bellows, ribs widening, chest rising.  Pushing the air out through his mouth, allowing his vocal chords and throat to produce a deep, noisy sigh like a last gasp, he encouraged his whole body to relax. Put his hands down to his hips and hoisted his stomach and body onto his side. Settling to relax in that position.

The tinnitus shifted notes in his head as he moved. The ear muffled by the pillow helped to re-echo the pitched signal and create the short bursts of internal lightning he could somehow feel as well as see.  He moved his hand from his settling gut and tucked it under the pillow.  Positioned for relaxing if not sleep,  Busie Warboys was not the man he used to be.

……………..

He was woken by the broken chime of the clock, his first reaction was to look at the luminous dial of his watch. It was the third chime that had woken him.  3a.m.

He must have been asleep but now he was wide awake, head clear and ears as silent as the night. Lifting himself upright by swinging his legs over the edge of the bed he slowly rose up and moved to the side of the window. He didn’t touch the curtains but peered through the gap between edge and wall.

Looking down from his position he could see along the street.  Just see the footpath below his window and as he moved the inch or so needed he could check for movements from his side of the street and across the other side. His view was clear down the main street and by switching sides of the window he could repeat the view in the opposite direction.

He could see the shadows moving.  The people moving about.  Ghosts lifting themselves out of the ground, out of the rubble.  Civilians who cried as they walked from shattered house to broken house in search of something, not sure what, no longer aware if they were alive or dead.  Keeping close to the wall, Eddy peered through the broken slats, like bars, of dissembled cellar doors. His view level with and along the rubble strewn road, inches from his face.

The horizon was close. Fractured walls on each side of the street with rubble collapsing down into the street where footpaths used to be.  The church sitting at the junction of the streets fifty yards ahead had a stern facade which arched up into a neat bell tower with a small square open niche for the sound of the bells to flow round the town.  Where the roof once was he could see sharp ribs, broken spars, jarring into the sky.

He watched, fascinated as the great machine, dust ridden and pock-marked leered round the corner.  Huge, remorseless, a sloping slab of armoured metal.  His eyes seemed to be filled with the dark grey protuberance at the end of the muzzle. The black centre was fused into his brain as flame and smoke belched out of its mouth and vents, simultaneously the wall above his window disintegrated and he fell unconscious, pressed into cracked floorboards by ceiling, joists and brickwork from the room above as well as scraps of broken furniture and uniform of one of his platoon.

…………………………….

When he woke the mess and smell had disappeared but the tinnitus had returned and every muscle seemed to be quivering.  He pulled himself upright using the sill for leverage and stood at the window. A short fat man who shivered with the cold, sweated with the cold and whose beating heart crashed in his chest as he looked out on the tidy, empty village street and it’s orange dotted lamplights displaying pools  of rural midnight blandness.

“Okay Eddy, it’s only the ‘Market Garden’, it could be worse.,” he spoke out loud.

He answered, “Yes and Busie is here to keep, you sane.  The old soldier in his mind respected help when it was offered and accepted.    Calmer now, heart still fast and fluttering, he went back to his bed, laid himself down and contemplated the ceiling until the brief hour of sleep found him.

Busie awoke in time to hit the bell on the alarm clock. “Rise and shine, it’s half past five,” he recited to himself as he rolled himself off the bed and onto his feet with the aid of the brass bed-head.   He dressed and clambered down the stairs to the big kitchen.   Put the kettle on to boil and used the time to use the toilet and wash hands and face in cold water.  Timing was perfect as he ran fingers through his sparse hair to tidy it then tossed the spoonful of tea leaves into his mug as the kettle steamed.  He poured the water into the mug watching as the small leaves turmoiled and stained the water.  Kettle put on the side of the cooker after pouring water into a saucepan to be ready for a couple of eggs to be broken into and poached. A big pinch of salt and he moved saucepan onto the gas flame after a little topping up of water from the the old brass tap.

Back to his tea, a big dash of milk, no whisky this morning and a stir to the mixture, raising a storm with the tea leaves again.  And on with the eggs, on with the toast in the grill.  The routine following  minute by minute while he settled his brain for the day ahead.  Busie was in control, Eddie was resting at the back of his brain after the strain of reliving a hopeless battle he helplessly survived.

His day would start properly with the unbolting and unbarring of the cellar doors for the draymen;

with the ritual of them hauling out the empty barrels and kegs via the parallel ropes that were clipped to the outer edges for the door frame.  Outside, when the cellar doors were raised they hid the opening into the beer-cellar from the casual observer. You could not see the well-preserved slope down to the stone floor some eight feet below, up which the empty barrels were easily drawn.  When the replacements were lowered it was less easy. The large sawdust filled hessian cushion lay at the base to soften the landing of the filled wooden casks. Once in the cellar they had to be rolled carefully up the small sloping bridge onto their blocks and wedged firmly, ensuring the bungs were down and central.  Strapping was available to manouvre them if need be but years of practice had the job done in minutes. There was always plenty of time to slake any thirst the draymen may have built up.  The fresh barrels, be they mild, bitter or local brews had to sit while the dregs settled. It took a day or two before they could be used, for the finings to work, so they would usually test the previous delivery, freshly tapped the previous night for their visit.

 

“How are you today, Eddy?”  Asked the vicar, the ex-soldiers ex-padre as he joined the publican on the path outside the Jolly Puritan to watch the draymen load the empty casks and barrels onto the dray.

“Busie, sir.”  Always Busie when I am working.  It’s only Eddy when I can’t sleep, or when I do!” He said wryly.

“Yes, sorry. Busie, though I still can’t get out of the ‘Eddy’ habit. Remember I am only up the road if you need to talk about old times, good or bad.  I am lucky, I guess; don’t seem to have your troubles.  Arnhem was the worst of it for me but you went back for more.

“Maybe I should ‘ave kept me original name but I was invalided out after ’47 so I had to change it to get back in.  Seemed a good idea at the time. Still, had me a couple of years back in the ranks, got me three stripes again and then they kindly blew me up.  As good as.  All I came out with was a medical pension and a big hole in me ‘ed, out of which me mind escaped.”

They watched the last empty kegs flung by the driver and caught by his mate then piled and roped on the flat-back lorry.  “Still, always time for a beer when the brewery’s here.  Come on lads, let’s test last delivery!”  He shook his head a little as another rhyme had escaped.

‘A quirk!’ The doctor had said as he smiled at him. He had come home from Korea and the doctor at the board had signed him off with another pension, a plate in his head, tinnitus, a lost memory gap of some four years and a quirk that seemed to ensure he spoke in rhyme whenever he uttered a short sentence.  Not to mention his unwished-for reversion to his earlier persona of Eddy Stone and the rubble of Arnham.  The dreams were real whenever they caught him, he could never just turn them off just survive them. Daylight and the Jolly Puritan, that was what kept him almost sane.

“Just a quirk!” And he followed the men inside while the vicar walked away. Inside the doorstep he picked up the Bible, yet again, and stuffed it onto the shelf.

 

another excerpt from ‘Burnthorpe’

Angel on Your Shoulder

Angel Lamb looked at herself in the mirror and wondered why her reflection looked back at her like an excited girl, her naive namesake with the cheeks and arched eyebrows, hair bouncing and curling down to the nape and the gold bangle earings just arcing out from under.

“If only!” She thought.

 

Madelie Carew sat at the back, closest to the wall, her view obstructed by the pillar nearest the altar rail. The rib at the top of the pew pressed into her shoulder blades as she leaned back staring at the arch from that pillar to the side-chapel, the lady chapel, and it’s wooden screen of spiked ornamental bars guarding the statues within.   She rose, stretched her shoulders back and shrugged to release the tension and walked to and through the gap into the lady chapel.  The paving stones were uneven around the slab where the donor generations before had been interred, their name now rubbed illegible.  She stood at its edge, toes on the still readable date ‘1666’.

 

Angel finished tidying her father’s vestments and the choir’s Surplices, this time ignoring the mirror as she passed it again.  Left the vestry and turned from the pulpit to walk the nave aisle and out.  At the old carved font where the draught from the open door was the nearest they got to cool air in the summer she turned to check all the flowers had been removed.  At the altar, at the window niches, at the feet of the surviving statuettes from the Civil War and the empty niches where flowers were laid as midsummer cushions or winter wreaths and lastly at the Lady Chapel. Where she saw the figure in the chancel.

There was no sun brightening the stained glass so Angel didn’t recognise the woman, almost a silhouette herself in grey jumper and slacks. She walked round the last pew to the white distempered  sidewall and on to where the Lady Chapel extension stepped out from the main church. Here the walls were still their original stone blocks, locally quarried and now dulled with their age. The surface had not been smoothed as the main church walls but remained almost in their rough-hewn state. Smoothed by tool but still scarred by the chisels themselves.

“Hello.” Angel spoke quietly as she neared, not wanting to startle the visitor she now recognised.  “Have you come for a chat or just a bit of quiet?”

Madelie turned at the words, smiled in recognition of Angel and said “Hi.”  Looking back down at the slab on the floor, ” I was just thinking about Anne.”  She tapped her foot lightly on the stone.

“Is she there, under all that stone, all those years?”    She drew her shoe over the name and date,  ‘Anne Rooker 1666′”.

“I suppose so.”  Angel felt the solemnity of looking down at the last resting place.

“Was she famous?  I suppose she was just a rich old lady that wanted to guarantee her place in heaven, or did they call it ‘Paradise’ in those days?”

Angel put one hand on Madelie’s shoulder and pointed with the other to the window.

“She paid for that window too.  It looks better when the sun shines through it and there is a little  inscription on that plaque near the top.”

“Oh, yes, I never noticed it before. Not that I have been in this bit often, nor the main church for that matter.  Its a nice old place; peaceful”.

Angel read aloud the words carved and black painted:

“This chapel and window donated at the insistence of Annie Rooker. 1600-1666.”

“Odd thing to say, ‘insistence’. Wouldn’t they have said ‘For the glory of God’ or in memory of some ladedah’s wife or daughter.  Was she some haughty lady of the manor who just expected vicars to do as they were told and build chapels whenever.?”

“No, It was the Parish that built it. I suppose the vicar and Bishop must have agreed.  I just read the words and keep this place dusted for my dad. Well he’s the vicar here and it’s part of my new-leaf doing it. Mind you a bit of sweeping and dusting takes no time. Polishing the screen is a bit of a drag but I talk to the two Mary’s up there.”

“Yes, I wondered about that”. Madelie wondered again, very briefly then shrugged and turned back to look at the window.  Dull colours broken by thick leaded supports. She stood back to interpret the design.  Two figures halfway up a hill, they seemed to be waving sticks.  Behind them stood a tower that seemed to be in flames, or it might just be the sun bursting out from the top of the tower.  Balancing the ‘tower’ and above and between the two figures could be seen the white drapery of a flying angel hovering in grey clouds.

“They say it was Annie Rooker’s design. It’s a bit odd, reminds me of Jack and Jill.”  Angel spoke.

Both women turned and and walked through the nave, each touched the rough stone font as they walked passed.  One of the oak doors stood open, it’s blackened panels contrasting with the still shiny internal blocks of the other door. They walked through the short porch and out.

     “Jack and Jill, my foote!  I fought tooth and nail to get this built. The villagers owed this to my girls”.

The sun fleetingly skipped through the colours of the stain-glass then receded again.

“I’ve seen you in the pub and around, I didn’t realise your dad’s the vicar. Do you live here?”  Asked Madelie as they walked the short distance down the slope from the church and into full sight of the vicarage.

“Yes, for my sins!”  With a small embarrassed giggle from Angel.

“You’re not living up to your name then?”

“Well, actually, I’m trying. Especially for dad.  I had a bit of an escape a few weeks ago and I’m keeping a bit careful.  Nearly had a run-in with old Walter.”

“Who?”

“One of the local bobbies, the young one. He gets in the pub a lot. I’ve seen you sitting with him a few times.”

“Old Walter! That’s his name!  No wonder he never told me..  I even got him to walk me home one night.  I was being eyed-up by a bloke I didn’t fancy.  You know, the one who turned up dead from booze and drugs.”  Madelie smiled at the memory of the friendly Policeman walking beside her. The women had slowly walked to the Vicarage gate and stopped automatically.

“Were you going home?  I just assumed……..” Madelie queried.

“Yes, I said I would do some baking with mum.  I am rubbish but offered and she took me up on it.

Better go. Oh, you never answered. In the church. Were you there for the quiet?  If so then I seem to have busted that, sorry.   If you need a chat, dad, sorry, the vicar, is in church for a while around six most evenings.  Or if you like we could meet up in the pub for a talk or just a laugh.”

“Just a laugh would make a change.”

“Tonight, tomorrow? I work evenings in the bar weekdays but usually drag off for a break. ”

“Okay, tonight is good.” Said Madelie decisively. ” and you can tell me all you know about that Annie what’s-her-name.”

“That’s all I know, what’s on that plaque thing.”     She walked up the path to the door, turned and called out “Bye!” with a wave of her hand and was responded to by Madelie as she was lost to sight by the trees.

Angel checked her varnished nails were still pristine after the little light dusting in the church before pushing the front door and calling out she was home.

“It’s Rooker, Annie Rooker!”

……………………………….

The Jolly Puritan was short of customers that evening.  Football on the television kept many regulars in their homes.  Some of the younger men had been nagging at the landlord to fix up a television in the bar so they could watch the sport, whether football or the latest craze of snooker from Sheffield while they drank.  The landlord was equally nagged by the old regulars to keep it quiet and let them get on with darts, dominoes and a quiet pint.   He had no problem either way but was concerned about having to fix the television aerial onto the the old chimney stack. Not so much his doing because it would have to be someone else using hooked ladders on the ancient ridge tiles and then fitting  bands on the stack to support the weight of the aerial.  Even the new-fangled ones would be pretty heavy, though not so bad as the giant ‘H’ that was most common.  Anyway, he suspected that in the current new age of historical-romanticism the local council would not allow it.  None of the old buildings around this part of town had aerials.  “Ruin the skyline” explained one planning officer.

Mind you, that hadn’t stopped them allowing the historic shops further down from ripping out the old interior walls to make bigger internal spaces. That led to one or two redesigning their shop fronts into plate-glass where the mannequins could spend their time staring out at the passers-by.  Leaving the old upper floors with their overhangs and still-stuccoed walls looking like left-overs from another Time.   Which they were.    Town planners and local politicians sometimes had best interests and made worst results.

The publican of the Jolly Puritan mulled this over as he sat figuring an order for the morning dray.

Above, the sombre Puritan on the swinging board looked down at the changes too.  Looked at the naked mannequins and swayed gently with the breeze. Held his good book more tightly to him and tapped a thumb on the leather in irritation.  “Came the Revolution, came the Witchfinder.”  His hand clenched and rapped more steadily.  As he rapped so the sign swayed a little more. A little more.

The breeze increased and slid leaves across the street.

Halfway up the hill, Church Lane, in the well of the small bell tower a step over from the LadyChapel the rope from the smallest of the six bells must have slipped off its peg in the breeze and swung heavily down.  The sudden pull on the bell rope, it’s furry ‘Sally’ and back-rope dangling almost to the floor must have been just enough to swing even that serious weight, followed by a single dolorous chime.

It was Friday night in the oldest pub in town, not quite as busy as usual.  The enthusiastic footballers had  boycotted the pub in favour of watching the live football on the newest twentyone inch television at the ‘Well-End’ pub the other end of town.   Dominoes and darts however were in full cry with the occasional shout from the bar-billiards table jammed in a corner.  Regulars and irregulars gathered and chatted with news and jokes. Supping beers or downing pints amidst the noisy, convivial atmosphere of the pub and its blue haze of cigarette smoke.

The vicar sat at his usual table and mixed his cigar smoke into atmosphere.  Beside him sat Walter and Busie who would sit briefly until the bar looked too busy for Angel to cover alone and then dash over to help.  Back to the table when the bar cleared, usually with a tray of refills for all.

“She okay?”  Said the vicar, meaning his daughter behind the bar.

“Yes, Madelie is keeping her company,” he referred to the woman’s back, sitting on the brass-legged bar stool.  Smoke from her cigarette curling up from the ash-tray and dispersing head height into the rest of the blue-misted room.

The evening blared and rattled on then faded down as last glasses were downed and people left in small groups or singles.  Four men stood outside and shared from a packet of cigarettes, all gently swaying in rhythm as they lit or shared a match to get the tobacco ignited.

“Who was third?”  Joked one, “Put that light out!” joined another.  And they swayed more as they grinned at what was once no joking matter.

Swaying above them, enjoying the scene below, the Jolly Puritan tipped the contents of his frothy tankard onto the oblivious men on the pavement. “Who lit the fire?”  He mouthed silently. His counterpart remained stock still, finger tipped between pages of his book.

The few remaining in the pub were sitting round the table nearest the open fireplace and its logs placed ready for an excuse of winter to be lit.

“Angel said you were interested in the Lady Chapel and Annie Rooker”  the vicar started the conversation once they had tidied up the empties ready for a final washing and closing up by Busie.   He always insisted on shooing everyone out before he finished the cleaning jobs needed and the last checks before he could relax in his back room and then try to get some sleep.

Madelie looked at Angel then the vicar,………..     “You would get every fact known to man, and woman, if you asked Lady Matilda.  She’s our Grand Master of the Historical Association, you know.  But,” he paused, “she might give you the written facts as she sees them and a bit less of the gossip.  Any village has factions, you know.   You’re quite new here but you must have seen some of it already.  This place was Saxon, then Viking followed by whatever until the English Civil War.  Many villages were one or the other, or pretended to be to survive the Puritans’, or Cavaliers’ armies and looting.  Not necessarily your good old rape and pillage after battle but often looting, or rather ‘requisitioning’ of supplies for the troops.  Anyway, I doubt if Burnthorpe was much different to other villages.”   He took a gulp from his pint of bitter and a slug from his whisky chaser.

He continued,  “I can give you my version. The long one or the shorter one, depends how interested you are.”   He smiled, giving Madelie an option to back out of any storytelling if she wanted.

“The real story is good, but not too long.”

“Yes, don’t go on like you do with your prehistoric war stories, please don’t.” Mock-pleaded Angel.

“Okay.” He cleared his throat, “It was a dark and stormy night and the cavaliers were seated round their camp fire….” Angel clapped her hand over her fathers mouth.

“No! No! This is serious! Madelie just wants the bare bones of how the Lady Chapel got built and why she ‘insisted’ on it, like the plaque says.”

 

     “You want the truth eh?   I was rich in those days.  Not the richest but I owned the brewery after my husband died.  ‘E ran off and died later, if truth be known.  Where you sit now is where I sat.  My daughter Mary helped me and her friend Sarah from the Smithy.  Plus the menfolk we hired hereabouts to do the little jobs we couldn’t.  And the mill, as it was then. That was mine by inheritance. So you see I was rich enough. Paid me way, didn’t need finery but could’ve.   

     I could read and write through having been taught by the vicar. He always had his eye on me, from too young an age.  Taught me letters and numbers well enough but when he tried to teach me more. …… I taught meself with the Brewers son.  Marriage and death are all but one so it happened.  There I was, a rich widow-woman with a business to run, mill and brewery, and a scarty daughter.  I alone taught me daughter Mary. I needed no man, nor she.

     She was bright and took to running the mill while I stayed in the brewery.  I could cuff the men to keep them right and give better than I got.  Sarah, the smithy’s daughter had a mouth and hand like her father’s but took to Mary and kept the buggers’ hands and mouths off her.  But they looked like angels.  Both on ‘em.”

 

Her father held up a hand in surrender  as Angel removed her hand from his mouth.  They sat with assorted smiles and head shaking as the vicar slowly,  ceremoniously raised his beer mug to the bar. “It’s a longish, shortish story but here’s the gist.   At the beginning of the Civil War, here, Burnthorpe was in the middle of neither side but both Cavalier and Cromwell, or rather Puritans, quite fancied a prosperous little village as it was, even then, so would make forays into town. They never did much actual harm.  They took it in turns to visit, as it were. In between linking various yeomanry or cavalry units of whichever  side to wherever their main army was.  Down to Oxford probably but generally not here.   She……”

     “Annie Rooker!”

“Owned the brewery and the old mill on Rookery Hill”

“It’s from her name then, I thought it was because of the birds there!”  Angel spoke.

“Here is where you get the short version”, continued her father, “At the last spasm of the Civil War the village was ‘hosting’  a straggle of seriously loyal Royalists, seriously Royal too if you will forgive the way I put it.”   He looked around but the studied silence meant continue.

“A unit of the Model Army under the command of a somewhat ferocious major sat themselves the other side, below the summit of Rookery Hill and scouted the town, well, village.  As the mill was handy they broke in and raided the food store and took both young woman captive.    That we know because it was their story after the event.  Cromwell’s lot then planned to attack, ‘sack’, was the term the girls used; the village. ‘Lay it waste’.  I believe Mary said.  I didn’t know they did such thing.  I assumed the Model Army was just that.”

     “Don’t believe it, all men sink to animals and worse when their blood’s up and their hands is red!”

“The upshot was that the girls escaped.  On purpose or not the mill got set on fire.  Perhaps they set the fire to escape, maybe just an accident.  Sarah, or one of them, bashed a couple of men with a pole or some such to get past the guard.    With the mill quickly bursting into flame behind them they escaped down the hill and crashed their way into the brewery.  Well, this place. The brewery was this building and the outhouses.  I s’pose they drank in this very room and whatever they called the lounge.”  He directed his beer hand at the connecting room and took another, finishing swallow.

“More beer, more beer for more story!” He pleasantly appealed.

     “They were caught, besmirched and tied by thugs. They wasn’t soldiers despite their uniforms or their religion.  It was that very smithy’s son that set his sister and Mary free, who set the fires for the village folk to see they were about to be attacked. God save ‘im; as ‘e did.    Yes, Sarah smacked a man about the head with a broom handle.  Brave maid!  And they came down the hill, shoutin’, yellin’.   Where was the Watch in the church tower?  Why was no warning sounded?  He wasn’t asleep, he was well-bribed!”

“So, it ended up like a Viking raid, there was plenty of those in this area, well, here.  The major got mad.  Sent his men down to do as much damage as they could despite no one in the village being armed or had ever cared to put up any resistance at any time over those years.  As far as I have read.

Well, they ransacked all the houses, drank this place dry.  It was the brewery but a ‘drinking-hall’ as the Vikings might have called it.”          He took a sip of his replacement beer.

“Then it got too savage.  They did the usual trick of stabling themselves in the churchyard and quartering in the church itself.  The major commandeered this place for himself and a couple of henchmen.”    Vicar looked at his watch. He was enjoying his storytelling too much and was creeping into the long version.   ” Sorry, I am getting too old for this story. I am going to be really brief, assuming you just want the ending.”

Angel put a hand on her father’s shoulder and in mock tiredness said, “Why was the LadyChapel built? And the stained window?   Otherwise we will all be asleep.  You can tell us the gory details another day, if we really need to know.”

     “Gory! I had gory, I saw gory. I saw death no one should be witness to”

“The soldiers stayed a few days, a week or so.  Have you heard of Mathew Hopkins?  He was there.  At the start or soon after, when, I don’t know.” He paused.  Madelie, at whom the question was aimed, shook her head.

“Mostly known as Witchfinder General, self styled, self appointed. Brilliant at inciting, crowd-baiting and getting his own way.  And finding a witch wherever he looked.  Here, in Burnthorpe he found two.”

Madelie guessed their names “Sarah and Mary.” She nodded as he spoke their names.

     “WItches!  Burnt because they were two women living alone in the mill.  Burnt because they could argue in words bigger than I knew, because she could read and write. So-called trial!  Burnt because they dared to escape and never explained how. Because they defended themselves.  Were stood on faggots, tied together, killed by flame and smoke because they killed a man with a broomstick.  Because they were two loving girls!”

“So-called trial in the church.  Nothing written except it happened.  Sentenced and executed, just outside the church itself.”

“Where the chapel is” Again it was Madelie.

The vicar nodded, finished his latest bitter in a long pull, Adam’s apple jogging as he swallowed.

“No idea where the money actually came from.  Took years.  Annie sold the ruined mill, to a new-rich landowner who gained from the years of war and settlements of the Commonwealth.  She eventually went to London for some months canvassing for compensation.  When she returned she had money but not enough so she petitioned the church, anyone with land and money and begged from everyone in the village. Years it lasted and another trip to London at the Restoration.   The Restoration, bubonic plague and the 1666 fire of London all came and went.  Right after that fire, days after, Annie got permission to build the chapel, found she had money enough to start and pledges from the village to finish the job.”

st-laurance-trimmedHe tapped both hands on the table in a miniature drum roll.     “She wanted a memorial to Mary and Sarah and she didn’t rest until it was done. Twenty five years it took, give or take.  Sold and borrowed everything except this place. She it was that re-named the brewery to the pub name it has now; ‘The Jolly Puritan’.  When she went and died the parish made certain it was finished. Scared not to, some say.”

“There y’go,” he stood up, “and so must I, sermons to write and all that jazz.”  The group all moved, murmured and started to say goodnights.  Busie waved Angel away when she offered to help lock-up so the final trio left with cheerful calls as he bolted the door.  He moved to the other bar to check it was bolted too.  On his return he noticed the Bible that had been knocked to the floor.  He picked it up without comment and placed it on the shelf.

     “I warned them there would be consequences. They brought it on themselves.”

The vicar, ex-major Lamb walked pensively up the lane to the vicarage.  Behind him, strolling more slowly were Angel and Madelie. “Well, at least we know,” said Madelie.  “Three hundred years ago it must have been so different, so tough for Annie, Mary, Sarah and the others.”

“I still find it tough most of the time,” Angel said, slowed a little and leaned into Madelie’s shoulder.

“Yes, there are rubbish moments,” agreed Madelie. Their fingers linked as they walked on.

 

 

a tale from Burnthorpe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copper Man Turns to Gold

As I have said before, Burnthorpe is a small town of remarkable age with an old history of invasion and creation, followed by invasion and destruction and more to-ing and fro-ing through the Civil War.  Generations of competition as to who were the original settlers, which family surname survived or was  depleted by rank outsiders.

Enclosure had some effect and the early days of Industrialisation meant even closer ties between the outliers of weavers.  Following the advent of cotton mills in the region there was further thinning, or rather distribution, as those more desperate or adventurous moved away for work at those rising cotton factories.

The high hills around the town were scarps of chalk, remnants of the ocean life that covered the area millenniums ago. If you travelled a few miles away and a few hundred feet into those stiff hillsides through the white smokey chalk and flints you would have found the thin seam of coal.  Enough for a peasants winter fires.   Follow it vertically and the seam spread wider into a compressed forest.  Coal that was easy digging and firm enough to rouse local industry.

Water power as good as succumbed to steam except where the milling was fine or the engine housing could not be built on the weavers mill.  The farmers brought in static engines to their timber yards and steam tractor could plough a larger field in a day that might take a man and plough-horse five days.

So the town, with its occupants, ebbed and flowed like the sea, a just-visible line on the horizon from the hilltop.  Always there, always full of undercurrents, flotsam, jetsam and people trying to stay afloat.

The two churches stayed, emptying as the years rolled on. The Elizabethan inn remained, re-daubed and propped up on the old stable wall.  They did not demolish the stables in the yard, they just fell away. The narrow bricks finally crumbling back to their Dutch dust though the Elizabethan oak beams were usefully carried away to their final resting places as heavy mantelshelves, lintels over fireplaces, by an enterprising builder in the mid sixties.

New houses, a new area built almost as a giant lintel itself to support the old market town. Or more like a great balloon of houses with crescents galore sitting along the top line of a capital T and the original High Street the bole with short roots protruding at its base which were the original lanes and footpaths into the depths of the country.  Terraced houses wound up the hillside with their neatly tiled roofs  as a legacy from the early NIneteenth Century.  Always changed but never moved.

So what?

The Burnthorpe and District Local Historical Society was assembled in the large back room of the Jolly Puritan.  Busie Warboys, publican, sat on his high stool behind the bar and absent mindedly wiped the brass edging with a cloth while he listened to the meeting in progress.

The vicar sat back in his chair, cigarette in the fingers of the hand that his chin was resting on. The smoke from the tip of the cigarette curling up into his eyes and hair.  He blinked, shook the half inch ash onto the floor, took a final long draw and stubbed it vigorously into the  saucer by his pint glass.  He was there as a pillar of the society rather than for History, though the Civil War did have some attractions.

Madelie Carew sat beside Walter Copper, the policeman.  Both were regulars to the bar and sat in the meeting as a matter of politeness.  Busie now considered them a bit of an odd couple as they sat together whenever they were both in but never seemed to speak.  One bought the other a drink, the other passed money for a few choices on the juke box that was in the public bar but loud enough to seep into the back-room where they all now sat.

Angel came through the gap between the service area of the bars and collected four bottles of tonic water from the shelves behind the publican said feet.  He fidgeted them out of the way.

Angel looked across at the group and studiously avoided the eyes of Walter.   He was trying to decide if she was old enough to work behind the bar.  Vicar’s daughter or not, it might not be legal.  But then he knew she wasn’t drinking, Busie would see to that, so maybe just knowing where she was was enough.

The librarian continued talking, “So very little has happened in the last year.  We have re-visited the Danish Camp and done some more measurements to map out the site more fully.  There has been a request that we investigate the old timber yard. It was suggested that we might have an old charcoal burners camp there.”

“More like it is old Joe’s camp fire.”  Walter threw in the comment to break the rhythm more than be useful.

“Not exactly in the yard but up in the woods a bit. There is a small clearing that fits the criteria.”

“Is that where they did the training during the war?  I recall there was exercises all round there. Caused havoc with getting the timber out.”

“That was the 14-18 war?”  Queried the librarian.

“No, ’44, it was.  Mind you timber was a bit ropey anyway, only useful as logs, most of it.”  The gamekeeper, Sam Roach, was the fount of knowledge on his acreage, attending the meetings as a duty to his work and his employer.  Big, bluff and ruddy outdoor complexion he was a stalwart of the village.  The vicar, as the others did, knew him also as a deputy undertaker and pall-bearer.  Despite his size and strength when dressed in the sombre black of his second trade he was a symbol of consideration and care. In the fields he could wring a neck in the flick of a wrist but beside a grave his handshake wrought nothing but sincerity and consolation.

Several others sat in a half-circle set away from the main table, each man and woman a mainstay of the Society too, but as they lived in the new town and visited the Jolly Puritan only for such meetings they had felt honour-bound to take the outer seats.  Anyway, they were nearer the door so could make their excuses to leave when the business was done.

Last round the table was Lady Matilda, widow of the late estate owner……..SIr Mortimer  Rissome.  She was a loyal supporter of the Historical Society, especially where the research entailed  members traipsing across her acreage or entering the old estate church now seemingly buried in its own private copse of bramble and ivy.  And tonight it seemed the old timber yard was even considered particular in maybe having a remnant of charcoal burners.  “Hardly historic”, she thought of this last item.  She looked across fondly to the gamekeeper and was sure he would look out for the estate and herself. Then returned her mind to the librarians reporting voice.

“So we ought to continue writing up the results from the Danish Camp for the County Records and get together a group to investigate the charcoal burners site.”

“You might find it wuz gypsies”. Said a voice from the back row.

“Maybe, but no harm in checking the site.”  Replied the librarian, “A couple of us can volunteer to visit there.”

Lady Matilda closed her eyes briefly and sighed quietly.

“I will have a careful poke around if you like. Said Walter, realising too late his wording could have been better for the librarian, ” My beat takes me up there so an extra ten minutes ferreting about wont be missed”.  More errors in choice of language, maybe.  Heignored the warming glow spreading into his neck.   ” I will read up on it, and take notes.”   Hoping this would retrieve the situation for the librarian.

“Thanks, just a careful recce. then.  We can get a full group up there after you have reported back”

Matilda’s eyes closed briefly again to hide her heavenward look.

The meeting drew to its anticlimactic end.  The librarian replaced his briefcase, the outlanders called out cheery goodbyes as they slid out.  Sam Roach held the door open for Lady Matilda to follow her to the car in which he chauffeured her home and the librarian downed the last half of his beer and rushed out to get home in time for his radio programme.

“Last orders everyone. Get Busie busy for once” the vicar raised his voice and glass as a sign for refills and went to stand at the bar.  Busie pulled him a pint. Vicar dropped silver and copper coins onto the slop-mat.

“I’m off home.”  Said Madalie.

“I’ll do the same.” Said Walter. They both called goodnight as the door closed on them.

The Puritan, swinging on his sign above, one side with hand on a Bible, other side with hand firmly on a tankard, rocked gently and wondered when the young man and woman walking down the short steep to the road would start listening to each other.  He took a crafty pull from the tankard and tucked the Bible more firmly under his arm.

……………………..

PC Walter Copper called out for Joe as he rounded into the old yard.  Surprisingly Joe was not around so Walter abandoned his bike to the ground, called out again to no reply and so decided to wander into the trees in search of the charcoal-burners remains.

He followed the directions in his notebook from the recent meeting.  There was no need really as he had been there several times before to quiet the local youths having there late night party and bonfire.  Oddly enough, it seemed to have been exactly the same place as the old charcoal pit was alleged to be.    Looking around the black scarred circle, the bare earth with its tussocks scattered about and the few old logs was depressing enough. The beer bottles and a couple of the new seven pint beer tins, all empty, were scattered about. A few screwed up bags and paper plus a plentiful supply of cigarette butts complimented the scene.

“Charcoal burners aren’t what they used to be”, he tutted.  He had no real idea of what to look for but found the semi-clearing just into the woods they had talked of.  The big black circle that dipped into the ground had obviously had years of  fires in it but whether it was a slow burn, carefully stoked by watchful burners or just where years of men had kept themselves warm between cutting the war- timber, he had no idea.  Bits of rubbish spread even here and he collected some of the more obvious cartons and match boxes from the scattered area of undergrowth and threw them into the centre of the ash-black circle.

At the further end of the clearing, if you could call it that, he found three large stones sitting in the ground that reached knee height.  They were surrounded by tall wild ferns and lichen covered the tops and sides like thick velvet and only visible as he stood beside them and bent down to remove fern spores from his uniform trousers.  He stood straight, hands on hips and studied them.

Too large and heavy to be your average or just old gravestones.  Too small to match the towns symbolic large boulder at the end of the HIgh Street yet could be as old and as oddly placed. Three, close together would be a coincidence too far for dear old Mother Nature, he thought.

It’s not an outcrop. Not part of a building as far as he could judge.

He looked around for more. Parting the ferns with rustles and more spores clinging to the serge of his trousers.

‘Dammit’ he said, looking at the myriad of green spores clinging to his legs, bent down and tried to brush them off.  Bent lower as he found he had to pick them off, one by one.  He sat down on the end stone and twisted the nearest stalk out of his way, out of the ground. The first came easily so he pulled at another to get them away from his clothes, it too flicked out of the ground easily, the clump of root flinging the layer of loose mulch around.  One more cleared and he could sit and pick the green spots off his legs. With the confidence of previous success he grabbed two close stalks with both hands, fronds waving in his face and pulled mightily.  They flew out of the ground and the sudden release of their tension  flung him backwards.  The change of angle from shoulder to hip, the auto-countering reaction of his body and the lush deep padding of the slippery lichen surface sent him crashing onto the ground, face down onto stalks and fern leaves and all.

Your perspective changes quite radically when you are suddenly lying on your side.  In Walters case he could see the skeletons of curled ferns and the rising stems of this year’s growth.  To his surprise he even noticed a few ants progressing up one of them to the black aphids secreting at the branch of the leaf and a lone ant descending from them, clambering over the ascending ants with no thought that it might be vertically challenging.  He twisted onto his knees, mentally checked that he wasn’t hurt more than he was embarrassed.  Hesitated as to whether to grab at a stone to haul himself up or just push up off the ground. Looking to put his hands in a flat, cleanish place he picked at a small stone that dug into his palm.  ” Flint most likely”.

Walter could have moved his hand an inch or two but the complex of curiosity, a stubborn eccentricity as to why he should move one hand from his chosen spot (!) and the shape of the flint encouraged him to scrape at the dirty stone.  Determined, he took out his jack-knife and applied the tool for taking stones out of horses hoofs.  “One day I will learn what it is called, might even use it on a horse if the worst really happens,” he muttered as he prodded and scraped a hole round the seemingly growing flint.

He never minded the dirt on his knees or the scores of bobbed spores all over his uniform but looked around carefully before he stood up.  Shutting the tool away with a spring-snap and shoving it into his pocket, he then took out his handkerchief and wrapped the object.  It was blackened with the ingrained mulch and charcoal dust, the size of a large coin.  Convexed each side with caked mud and the size of a cartwheel penny.  Which was his guess as it was quite heavy but did not feel as solid as flint.  Checking that no one was watching, he stuffed the protected token into his tunic pocket.  A quick brush of his knees and he strolled back through the trees to the path and his bicycle.  Climbed on and pedalled on the road home. Whistling as he pedalled, returning the wave of the woman in her garden hanging washing out.

………………………..

At a special meeting of the Historical Society they all sat round the small table, tightly shoulder to shoulder so they could all get a clear view.

“It will have to go to the Coroner.”

“It’s a museum piece.” Confirmed the librarian.

“Where did you find it?” Asked Matilda.

“I was looking at the charcoal burner site.  Found by accident really.”

“So it was on the estate, then.”

“It will be in the report to the Coroner, I shouldn’t say more exactly in case people get wind of it.  It looked like a gathering of the clans up there with all the rubbish.”

“It’s the party-place.” Put in Angel from behind the bar. “Everyone goes there for a drink and a bash in the summer, most weekends anyway. ”

“I didn’t know that,” said Walter.

“Everyone else does.” Said the vicar.

Walter picked up the the object.  ” It was black with dirt.  I assumed it was an old copper coin. One of those large penny things you might get at a jumble sale.”  He turned it in his hand so the lights from the electric candles in the candelabra above their heads could catch the amber set in its centre. The insect inside seemed to wriggle a little at the movement.

“I washed it in the sink and thought it was some sort of copper clasp but that colour washed off as I rubbed it.  Well, shaving brush and soaped it.  Anyway, the green bits floated away and a bit more warm water finished up with this.”  He weighed it in his hand and they all looked harder, as if it had cleaned itself as he spoke.

“It’s not copper, its Viking gold”  said the librarian.  “I think it is a clasp for a cloak, that is why it is so big.  And when I looked at illustrations in the library I am certain it is a Viking design.  It looks Celtic but the dragons heads and twining round the stone are similar to confirmed Viking designs.”

“Is it worth much?”  Asked Matilda.

“In itself?  Maybe if it can be linked to a king or somebody particular. Obviously a few pounds but most importantly if it can be linked to Burnthorpe history in some way and not just a bit of lost property it will be valuable to the town”.

“Well, I suppose we will have to wait and see. Have a proper look at the site.”  Said Walter, putting the clasp back on the table.

“I can see the headlines now,” said Busie, ” local copper cleans up in Burnthorpe”

“Maybe: ‘Copper clasps gold at last’ ”

“Amber lights for golden copper”

“P.c’s copper becomes Viking gold”

“Copper turns up gold”

“Copper wants another drink!”  Walter picked up the clasp, stood and moved to the bar to forestall any more headlines.

……..